About Doña Lupe’s Kitchen


Salvador and Lupe Camarillo w/family circa 1940 something

Doña Lupe’s Kitchen is a Los Angeles based blog written, designed and curated by Gina Ruiz.

Let me tell you a story, the story of Doña Lupe’s Kitchen and how it came to be. When I was growing up, the most magical place in the world for me was my Grandmother Lupe’s kitchen in Los Angeles in a little neighborhood they call Toonerville for reasons unknown to me. Toonerville is near Atwater Village, Los Feliz and Glendale but it’s closer to the railroad tracks, near factories and the L.A. River just below Chevy Chase. My grandparents settled there sometime in the early 1940’s right at 4040 Goodwin Avenue, I believe right after they were married. My grandparents are in the picture above. That handsome guy in the middle is my grandfather Salvador Medina Camarillo or Don Chava as he was called. I called him Papa. My grandmother Lupe is sitting right below him. My mother and her sisters were born in that house with my Tia Luz as my grandmother’s attendant.

The house was an old Craftsman of white wood with green trim. It came complete with creaky wooden floors, a cool cellar for storing things and the magical kitchen. There was an old 1950’s aluminum table with a red laminate top that looked to my childish eyes just like chopped tomatoes in a bowl. There was a formal dining room with an ornately carved table and a cabinet where the good china and glassware sat on display. That table sat 12 and there were always card tables to be set up for the children during the big holiday meals.

As far back as I can remember that kitchen was filled with good smells, companionship, love and food. My first memories are in that kitchen, standing with my grandmother at that crushed tomato table watching her chop, mix, stir, roll, season and taste. The whole barrio would smell of her baked goods, her salsas, her incredible moles. Her surprisingly soft little hands always smelled of rose lotion, garlic, onions, chiles and cumin – a comforting perfume.

One of my first jobs that I can remember were pinching the sides of sopes, those marvelous little corn cakes filled with meat, beans and vegetables or gently picking cilantro leaves from their stems. I remember using a tortilla press for gorditas, learning to roll out flour tortillas and pat corn tortillas into shape.

I remember my strong but gentle grandfather, Papa Chava rolling out massive white tortilla moons and handing them to my grandmother standing at the comal. I remember how the light would shine right through them and dazzle my eyes. It’s no wonder I have this obsessive love affair with food, color, light, texture and taste. I can’t ever remember not knowing how to cook.

My young life was filled with the colors and smells of my grandmother’s kitchen and if we went to my relative’s houses they cooked in the same way, keeping the same traditions. My Tia Luz for example, even when she was 70 years old would climb her own peach trees to pick just the right fruit for her famous peach pie that tasted tart, sweet and fresh as a summer day.

Grandma Lupe and Me around 1969

This is me sitting in front of one of my grandmother’s incredible picnic lunches and that’s my grandma right behind me with her apron on.

Our summers were filled with barbeques, there were tamaladas in the winter, sope making for church bazaars, baking, the distilling of rompope, that Mexican eggnog loaded with rum and poured carefully into sterilized bottles, the famous pan for any holiday and special ones for Catholic mass at Cristo Rey Church when they enacted the last supper. When whomever was playing Jesus raised that huge roll of bread, shiny with it’s brushed-on gloss of egg wash and the lights of the stained glass windows hit it, my breath always caught knowing that my grandma made it, that I had lovingly brushed on coat after coat of the egg wash till my grandmother judged it good enough for mass. I’d turn my head and catch my grandfather’s eye and watch his big dimples get bigger and bigger as he smiled with pride. Together, we’d look at my devout grandmother who was anxiously hoping that her bread was pleasing to the Lord she dedicated her life to.

I remember cold mornings waking up under a mountain of wool blankets and sarapes and just lying there listening to the sounds of my grandmother in the kitchen. She’d wake every morning at the crack of dawn, open all the windows and doors, and go out and water her beautiful garden of flowers and herbs. She’d then come in and make fresh tortillas, salsas, put on a pot of beans and whip up things like huevos con nopales, crispy refried enchiladas and eggs, scrambled eggs cooked in her fresh salsa de molcajete, beans straight from the pot with chopped tomatoes, cilantro and onion, or her fresh pan (bread) straight from the oven and dripping with creamy butter. There was always coffee for my grandfather from that old blue coffeepot and hot atole or chocolate for me.

Summer mornings I was given milk or juice, or her orchata de melon. The variations were endless and one of morning rituals was to try and guess my the sound or the smell what was being prepared. I could never stay in bed long though, I’d open my eyes and find my Aunt Jessie’s laughing eyes upon me and I’d tumble out of bed and run to the kitchen to help Grandma cook. Nothing made me happier unless it was helping my grandfather out in the garden learning to plant cilantro and chiles for my grandmother’s kitchen.

Food and religion, food and spirituality, food and family, food and tradition. Food was never just something to fill our bellies. There was always a purpose, always love and always the unmistakable hand of my grandmother in all of it. Every bite tasted of her devotion and love for us and I grew up memorizing her memories, her stories, her recipes.

Like my grandmother, I don’t measure unless it’s something new I’m trying and even then, I can’t help but change things about. I don’t think I’ve ever stuck to a recipe from a book. I am always trying new things, but my roots are strong and I still make the things the way she did, using her methods, the freshest ingredients, everything from scratch, and using traditional processes for certain foods like my moles and chile salsas.

As I became a young woman, her teachings proved invaluable. Managing my own household and four small children, I was able to share her love with them. I knew how to make something from nothing during the really rough times after my divorce. I could whip up pies and cakes from the barest cupboard.

I had hoped at least one of my children would learn my grandmother’s recipes but none show an interest so far and they are all grown and married. Every once in a while they ask for something but to them, these are their mother’s recipes not the great-grandmother they didn’t have the privilege of knowing.

I have grandchildren now, two of them who live nearby and these two love cooking as much as I did and in ways my children never did. Jasmine and Aiden adore being in kitchen and Jasmine, in particular has my grandmother’s touch with food. She has the same soft hands too. She often tells me “Grammy, try that spice” and sure enough her four-year old eye is uncanny. She’s always right on the money and brings new flavors and insight to my kitchen. Two-year old Aiden is already following in her footsteps and loves the kitchen more than any place in the house.

My grandmother always wanted a restaurant but her dream never came true. Her idol was Julia Child. I, on the other hand never wanted to cook for people I didn’t love or cherish. To me, cooking was just another way to show my affection or caring and cooking for strangers didn’t fit into that mold. My hero in of the culinary world was my grandmother and her ability to make anything, even the simplest pot of beans taste like nectar from heaven.

Today, on my 46th birthday, I thought I’d not only honor my grandmother’s memory by giving life to her recipes but that I’d create a testament, a legacy to leave my grandchildren of memories, stories about food, a life almost forgotten in these days of microwaves and instant meals. My youthful arrogance seems to be tempering (a bit) with maturity and my sense of immortality is fading. I’ve grown anxious that my grandmother’s recipes will be lost, that my children don’t care enough, that I won’t be around long enough to teach my grandchildren everything she knew.

My grandparents in their garden on Goodwin Avenue

This website is dedicated to my grandchildren in the hopes of preserving the past and the present in order that they can go into the future strong in their traditions and the knowledge of their family and where they came from. It’s also a tribute to my grandmother, Maria Guadalupe Gonzalez Camarillo and to all grandmothers everywhere. It will have family recipes, new and old and it will have stories about the people that made them, like my Tia Luz, cousin Rachel, my Nina (Godmother) Marie. Bienvenidos! Welcome to Doña Lupe’s Kitchen.

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21 comments

  • Norma

    I stumbled on your blog today. What a wonderful gift. Your story about your abuelita rings familiar to me. I grew up in Houston, though. I loved my Mama Cuca so much.

  • Norm Schoen

    What a fantastic experience. Thank you for sharing this. I have lamented often about being raised without the food or language of my ancestors (German). This story made me realize how important passing on a family tradition is and how much my own son will benefit from my love of cooking.
    Thank you.

  • Wow those memories ring true for me as well. I had many days in the kitchen with my Grandma Maria. I learned to make tortillas at a very young age and all the mexican foods to go with those tortillas. I still do the old traditions even up to cleaning my own nopalitos. I have them in my back yard. Oh the life from before is unforgetable and oh so nostalgic. I will definitely share your blog with others.

  • What a beautiful gift to your grandchildren! I would be eternally grateful to my grandma if she did this for me! I’m in the process of trying to learn all of my grandmother’s recipes…from the tortillas to the atole she would also make in the mornings when I’d spend the previous night at her house :).

    The way you described everything really warms all the senses! What wonderful memories, you’ve certainly captured the love!

    I stumbled upon your blog via Teresa’s and I’m really glad I did. You two have some fantastic recipes.

    My grandmother didn’t measure either, and though I did try to help out in the kitchen as a little girl, I don’t remember everything…so now I have to resort to calling her, because she lives across the country! Hopefully I can learn a thing or two from you both, though, to fill in the gaps. It’s so important to me to hold on to my culture with food because, sadly, I’ve forgotten so much of the language. My husband and I plan to practice with each other, though :).

    Thanks again for sharing this, it’s very touching :).

    http://www.flour-arrangements.com/s last blog post..Mini Pumpkin Pie Cinnamon Buns

  • CAROLINA

    I went to the Homestead Mexican marquet (30mi. south of Miami, where mexicans work the fields), I stumbled into quelites. My memory of quelites was that a humbled person used to bring those to my mom, she fed them to us, and we liked them. I did not know how to cook them, and your site provided me with not only how to cook and serve them but the nutritional value and story of the quelites. I was very happy to read your family history and made me think that time goes by quick, and I most start writing my moms recipies. Thank you!

  • Very interesting story…

  • melissa hernandez

    i stumbled across your site well looking for a reciepe to caldo de pollo reading your bolg brought back alot of my child hood memories. i to was born and raised in east los angeles by indiana and whittier blvd. and my nana was exactly as yours. but at age seven my mom moved us away from the love of my nana and i was unable to learn all that she had started to teach me and my mom like your children was never intrested. So now at 27 ive grown tired of the fast food and tv dinners and want to learn to cook like my nana used to so my four children can carry, on my son who is 10 loves to be in the kitchen and is constantly begging me to make him real food . Today is my first attempt with the caldo de pollo wish me luck and thank you.

  • This is so precious. I thank you for doing this. I never had the privilege of meeting either of my grandmothers, so I might in some ways adopt your grandmother’s traditions for myself.

  • Irene

    No save como me da gusto que hay algien como usted en este
    pais tan lleno de nueva technologia, porque se an olvidado de
    lo que es las raises de cada familia y tradiciones que uno cresio
    y me da mucho gusto que yo alla encontrado esta pagina en busca de recetas para selebrar la navidad con mi familia.
    Cada ano nos turnamos con fiesta este ano me toca la navidad
    yo nunca e tenido la oportunidad de aser la navidad en mi casa,
    Y anda enbusca de recetas porque quiero que sea algo espesial
    yo me recuerdo que mi abuelita en mexico asia unas cenas en noche buena muy deliciosas y ando en busca de eso.
    por ahorita no e encontrado lo que quiero pero si me da gusto de aver encontrado su historia.

  • Beautiful story. My grandfather was Don Chava too! I’m so glad I found your blog, saludos!

    • I’m so glad you found it and enjoyed the story. Yay for Don Chavas!

  • [...] About Doña Lupe’s Kitchen Doña Lupe’s Kitchen [...]

  • Beautiful blog. I love the pictures. I was very close to my grandmother as well.

  • Nelly

    I came across your website looking up how to make caldo de pollo! I love everything on here and your story. Every time I ask my mother or my mother-in-law how to make our favorite mexican dishes I get the runaround I don’t think they want to share their secrets with me:( but thanks to you I can try these and make them my own!

  • [...] About Doña Lupe’s Kitchen [...]

  • Carmen Lucero

    I just found your website and it brought back so many memories of my mom in the kitchen. I was looking for a recipe for agua de melon – I’m going to try your horchata de melon and see if it’s the same flavor as I remember growing up in Mexico.

    I’ve copied some of your aguas frescas, and I’ll be back later to see what other recipes you have.

    Thanks for bringing back memories of my mami.

    Abrazos y besos

    Carmen L

  • Chrissy

    HOLA! what a beautiful website. Brought a lot of wonderful memories. I grew up in HLP I can still taste my abuelitas tortillas with butter YUM! It was a pleasure reading your stories & sharing in your cooking.

  • [...] I got to thinking about my grandmother’s recipes and how I was forgetting them so I started Doña Lupe’s Kitchen.  I started it out of love for cooking and writing.  I eventually ran into Foodbuzz and have [...]

  • Mark Gillette

    When I got married and moved into our first house, Our neighbor Phyllis ( Phillpa) would send over Mexican Food that was so good and of course better than anything in the local resturants.
    I always asked for the recipe and she would laugh and say there isnt one she just cooks it. Well time has passed, Phillpa has passed and I so miss the wonderful food. From what I have seen and read here your recipes are close to her style of cooking can’t wait to try them.

    • LOL – they always laugh and say there isn’t a recipe. It’s maddening. I can’t tell you how many things I’ve tried to write recipes and I’m a horrid recipe writer. I really need someone to follow me around and write down what I do. I hope you have fun cooking and thanks for visiting :).

  • Jessica

    Wow! Thank you, thank you so much for sharing these invaluable treasures. I’m going to try to make these “aguas” with my daughter hoping to start a tradition of our own :)

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