Cusco Characters: Lina (la empleada)

When my daughter and I first arrived in Cusco at the Chavez’ home we were unaware that they had an empleada (domestic maid/cook). After some initial unease (on our part) interacting with a domestic servant, we quickly warmed up to Lina, who was a very good cook and served as our introduction to Peruvian food. The first meal that she cooked for us was a Palta Rellena (avocado half stuffed with diced vegetables) with Papa Rellena (beef, egg and vegetables inside deep-fried mashed potatoes) and Chicha Morada (purple corn drink). Simply delicious.

Lina is a plain yet attractive 45 year old woman with clear, dark eyes, jet black hair and a small birthmark below her right eye. She wears the same floral apron every day and the same blue handkerchief pulling back her medium-length hair. She has an extremely deferential manner but is not afraid to ask direct questions like “Do you believe in god?” “Is the United States a dangerous country?” and “Does everyone eat fast food in the United States?” She and her husband, who do not have children, both originally come from a small village about 6 hours from Cusco. When I asked her, “What do you do on your day off?” she replied, “I clean our house, I read the bible a lot and sometimes my husband and I go to a park or something.”

While Lina definitely has a handle on Peruvian cooking, she is interested in other cuisines as well. When my daughter decided that she wanted to make California Roll sushi (with canned tuna fish substituting for crab meat), Lina observed every step. She giggled with delight when my daughter began rolling the nori with a zip-loc freezer bag instead of the traditional bamboo mat. She was excited when we offered to cook Mexican Tacos for the family…and visibly disappointed when we had to postpone a few times. She offered to do the shopping and helped us with the prep work.

Lina has the household on a tight but sensible meal schedule. She arrives every morning (except Sunday) at 7:30 am to get breakfast started, having taken a colectivo (shared taxi) 45 minutes from her home. I always know when she has arrived when I hear the whistling teakettle in the kitchen. Breakfast is usually papaya or pineapple juice with bread and butter and either avena (oatmeal) or huevitos (eggs). Lunch is the biggest meal of the day and she has it ready around 1:30pm. She pretty much hits every item on the list of classic Peruvian dishes: Causa, Rocoto Rellena, Aji de Gallina, Lomo Saltado, Sopa de Quinoa, Chicharrones, Chicken Milanesa to name a few. Everyone comes home for lunch and partakes of the large afternoon meal. There’s lots of banter and many jokes as the family unwinds from the first half of the day. Once the meal is over, the Chavez’s retire to their bedroom for the afternoon siesta and Lina starts to clean up. Before she leaves at 4:00 pm, she puts plates of segundos (leftovers from lunch) into the refrigerator to be heated up in the microwave for the light evening meal when she’s gone.

It is hard not to like this eating regimen. A light breakfast followed by a large lunch at home with the entire family followed by a nap. By the time dinner arrives, you are not hungry for much more that a snack. It is healthy, brings the family together and it reduces stress. When we return home, we’d love to institute this schedule, but – despite the best of intentions – we’d probably revert back to normal very quickly. Perhaps we need a Lina in our household.

1 comment:

  1. Putting it all together...I have been totally enjoying every word of your blog. Just realized that your job is at The Textile Center. What a wonderful place. I was there in May when I volunteered at Cervicusco. Your adventures are amazing and inspirational.