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Although I was probably not yet three years old, I clearly remember running down the stairs from our apartment to my grandmother's on the ground floor of her two-family house, barging into her bedroom and asking her to make me one of her special breakfasts. Off we went to the kitchen where, even at that very young age, I soaked in the magic of what became my favorite room in the house.

"Abuela's kitchen was an enchanting place. There was never a moment when one of her meals wasn't taking shape on the stove. Salt cod soaked in a sink full of water while a pot of beans bubbled away in rhythm to the pounding of a pestle crushing a mortar full of garlic. My uncle and his family lived around the corner from us and joined Abuela for meals as often as our family did. I have only to close my eyes to see Abuela's long, beautiful dining room table dressed in a pretty white cloth and crowded with platters that held all the makings of a delicious Sunday breakfast. We came home from Mass to find huge platters of chorizo, sweet ripe plantains and huevos vestidos de torero, or "fried eggs dressed like a bullfighter," so named for their ruffled golden edges that resemble the trim on a bullfighter's jacket. Hot loaves of simple bread rounded out the meal and the smell of café con leche perfumed the air. Happy conversation filled the house and my Abuela's beautiful smile lit the dining room as she watched her family enjoy the food she prepared with so much love.

"In summer we visited my maternal grandmother Mama Clotilde in Puerto Rico. Her house was equally magical to someone like me who was absorbed in the making and sharing of food. She grew all her own herbs and beans and raised a flock of chickens. With a yard full of tall trees laden with bananas, mangoes and avocadoes—some the size of a football! Just about everything you needed for breakfast, lunch or dinner was right outside the back door. Mama Clotilde's kitchen bustled like Abuela's. She started the beans very early every morning and by one o'clock the table was ready for lunch with bowls of fluffy white rice, red beans with potatoes and delicious fried chicken, or a beautiful ensalada de bacalao—salt cod and potatoes dressed with lemon and olive oil.

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