My Puerto Rican Grandmother, Baba's Tostones, or fried plantains, always signaled the start of a celebration. They also reminded me that everyone was welcome
I grew up with my two grandmothers living in the same town as me. Holidays involved a boomerang between houses. My grandmothers were different. So much so, that going from one house to the other felt like whiplash. If whiplash was an intoxicating blend of noise, food and feeling loved.
My mother's family is Puerto Rican. Holidays were loud. Not turn-it-down-the-baby-is-sleeping loud, but head-throbbing-music-is-playing-people-are-laughing-hard loud.
The door was open to anyone who needed a place or some Puerto Rican Tostones. There were always Tostones. These delicious fried plantains were hot and ready when you got there. And the race was on to get there before my cousins ate them all.
The plates were paper, set inside those basket holders. A whole stack of them, piled up for you to grab as you went through the buffet. When you were done you could toss your plate and someone else could slide their plate into the holder. It was a brilliant system.
My father's family owned a hotel - hospitality was their livelihood. Meals were like clockwork and never rushed. My grandmother had beautiful china plates. I own her Christmas set now. The table on holidays was set with that china.
Each person had a spot, be it at the main table or one of the card tables set up for children around the family room. We would hold our china plates and work through our way through the buffet line before returning to our designated seat at the table. The plates had been counted out beforehand, as had the chairs. There was a place for everyone. We were expected.
My grandmothers were great friends. They delighted in each other. They were so wildly different and for that, I will always be grateful. You see, my Puerto Rican grandmother, the one passing out the paper plates in the baskets, she taught me about welcome. She taught me about the wide-open door, the food that never runs out, and the joy of adding just one more. Sometimes I can still hear her laugh and it's the laugh of someone who believed that there would always be enough.
My China Plate Grandmother, though, she taught me about belonging. She taught me what it meant to be known, and planned for and expected. She had a Christmas stocking with my name on it and a seat for me at her table. If I was not there, I would be missed. There was a space only I could hold. She remembered all the small details of my self-absorbed ramblings. She wrote me letters and followed up. When I would stop by and visit it was as if I was the most important person in the world.
My two grandmothers inform so much of my thinking these days on hospitality. My memories are, no doubt, a child's view. This is how I felt when I was young and did not know the responsibility or work that went into any meal, much less a family. Yet, these themes of welcome and belonging are in constant play in both culture and the church, in our schools, and in all public dialogue.
Be sure to make room for everyone. Pull more seats up around the table. And for those who make it through a wide-open door, there should always be tostones to announce that the party has started.
The perfect appetizer for all of life's celebrations
medium green plantains
peeled and sliced into 1-inch pieces
Goya Adobo Seasoning
Heat oil in the skillet over high heat. Place a few plantain slices in the oil. Cook about 3 minutes until slices are a light golden color. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining slices.
While plantain slices are still warm, place them one at a time between two sheets of wax paper. Flatten by hand to 1/4 inch thick. Return flattened slices to skillet and continue frying until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
Tostone Dipping Sauce
Mix Goya Adobo seasoning with ketchup and enjoy!