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Take the Mic: A Tacoma 14-year-old and his grandmother bond cooking Colombian food

Parker Miles Blohm
Sebastian Bush (right) is a 14-year-old sophomore at Annie Wright Upper School for Boys in Tacoma. During the pandemic, he's been spending a lot of time in the kitchen with his grandmother, Elsa Forero, cooking the food of her native Colombia.

For 14-year-old Sebastian Bush, time at home during the pandemic has had a certain smell: the scent of traditional Colombian cornmeal cakes known as arepas frying, and beef, rice and potato-filled, crescent-shaped pastries known as empanadas sizzling in oil.

It’s also had a certain sound: the sound of chatting with his grandmother, Elsa Forero, as they prepare the food of her childhood in Bogotá.

With so much time at home during the pandemic, a lot of us have turned to cooking for comfort. That process of chopping and mixing has given some family members a chance to bond. Sebastian, who lives in Tacoma and is a sophomore at Annie Wright Upper School for Boys, said his grandmother has been coming over pretty much every weekend, spending lots of time cooking and talking with him in the kitchen.

Sebastian interviewed her for KNKX’s Take the Mic youth voices project, which shares stories from kids and teens about life in this time of upheaval. We’re collecting more stories from young people and it’s easy to submit.

“Could you tell me a bit more about eating these things as a child and how that makes you feel today?” Sebastian asked her.

“Bringing it here to the States and these many years later, it just brings me back to those moments and being at home with my parents and my siblings and it’s just nice memories that you can also enjoy with taste,” Elsa said.

Sebastian said having his grandmother come over regularly has given his life some welcome predictability.

“She comes over once a week, or tries to at least, and whether or not anything else is happening over the weekend, I know that that’s going to happen and I can count on that and I know we’ll probably have arepas,” he said. “It’s fun to make them and to eat them and to hang out.”

Elsa Forero’s Arepas Colombianas:

2 1/2 cups warm water 

2 cups pre-cooked white corn meal (we use P.A.N.)

Vegetable oil or butter as needed

Place corn meal in a bowl and gradually add warm water. Mix with your hands until mixture forms a soft, moist, malleable dough. Divide dough into 8 golfball-sized portions and pat each one into a patty about 3/8-inch thick or use a tortilla press. Heat a skillet over medium heat, butter one side of arepas and cook 4 to 5 minutes per side until slightly blistered and beginning to lightly brown. Spread butter (if desired) on other side and season with salt. Enjoy!

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.