Grandma is standing in the kitchen—working with a stove that only she could tame. She is making chicken pilau (a dish not unlike arroz con pollo). The sweet and savory aroma of well-seasoned meat fills the house. The rice almost gives off light with its saffron-infused, rich yellow glow. She doesn’t use measuring cups or spoons. The quantity for each ingredient is fixed in her heart. This is cooking with love. She makes this dish from memory—and always in the same pot.
She is a woman going about her business. She has been up since it was still dark. The roosters did not wake her. She had already been cooking for hours when they began their main call and response.
Grandma is only cooking for three: Granddad, herself, and me—just a child. But you wouldn’t know that from the bounty of her pilau pot—its sheer massive size. The contents of that pot could feed a small village. It will take the three of us (all voracious eaters) two days to devour.
Today is Wednesday. Grandma is cooking the pilau for our weekly trip to Bathway Beach. We make this journey to the other side of the island because it is the only beach my grandfather will swim in. He’s very particular. And when he says, things like, “I’ll never touch the waters of Grand Anse Beach again,” he means it. In fact, he won’t even venture onto its sands. He drives Grandma and me to Grand Anse Beach almost every weekday, and waits in the car while we swim.
But right now Grandma is standing in the kitchen, conjuring up textures and flavors like a culinary wizard. Painting a tapestry of tastes and colors like an artist schooled in the grand traditions. Making the food sing. She is masterful at cooking. And Wednesday’s pilau is fit to serve any king or queen.
When her cooking is done, she will carefully wrap the pilau pot in towels, and Granddad will bring it to the car. He will also fill the trunk with malta, Fanta sodas, and mangoes. We will drive for hours, passing the green, pink, yellow, blue, and violet houses of Grenada. Each house with a corrugated tin roof—some still a metallic gray, others painted red. This is the housing palette of the Caribbean.
For me, the drive is long, the only difficult part of Bathway Beach Wednesdays. I will nap along the way—rousing myself periodically to look for an indicator of how far we’ve made it. As a born and bred New Yorker, I’m used to getting places at subway speed. But during my summers in Grenada with my paternal grandparents, I have to get used to a slower pace. I have to stretch my patience, especially on the rides back when Granddad is likely to stop for a drink at a friend’s and talk without ceasing.
Our drive will end on a sandy dirt road, Bathway Beach and it’s black reef coming into view through the palm trees. We will park in the shade and strip down to our bathing suits. Grandma will force a shower cap on my head and tell me not to get my hair wet. We’ll both know her request won’t be heeded, not by this head.
First we’ll swim. I will run with reckless abandon towards the water’s edge and plunge right in. Grandma will doggy paddle—her polka dot shower cap bobbing in the waves. To exfoliate, Granddad will coat his skin (from face to toes) with sand and rub it in. I will resume my boxing match with the waves, “Take that, ocean!” I’ll scream. And when my boxing match is over, I’ll do salt water ballet—performing arabesques and pirouettes with the support of the water.
Our first round of swimming done, we will partake of my grandmother’s cooking—eating before our near-private ocean view, doing our best to keep the sand out of our food, and allowing the sea salted air to further draw out the flavor of my grandmother’s cooking. These are the best meals I’ve ever had—eating Grandma’s chicken pilau with the warm West Indian sand beneath my skin and the Caribbean Ocean sparkling like a limitless blue diamond before me.
But right now, Grandma is standing in the kitchen, working with a stove that only she could tame, wiping her hard-earned sweat onto her fading floral apron, adding the spice and flavor to this day.