My Abuelita, Nelly

aerial illustration of a family gathering eating and sharing food.

By Aemilius Milo

“Bini’s Momo Party” Illustration by Jennifer Bloome

Stepping into my Abuelita Nelly’s home was always a special kind of aromatic experience. One I never realized I’d have to go without one day, or at least couldn’t fathom that day would come so soon. It’s been a few years now since she stopped cooking for our big family occasions, mostly because it’s a big job y ya’stá cansada, so the adult kids and grandkids have taken up the duties. But also because bit by bit, she started forgetting her recipes and began missing ingredients here and there.

Helping my Abuelita in the kitchen at 8 years old is one of my earliest memories of cooking; witnessing how raw ingredients became nourishing and delicious meals for 10 or more of us at a time. People often ask me how I gauge the amount of ingredients I need to cook large meals. Of course, cooking requires plenty of calculating and measurements, but – for me – a special part of preparing food, is harnessing my intuition and the knowledge  I learned from my Abuelita (as well as my father, and my ancestors too). I remember one of my main jobs, as her little kitchen helper, was taking the sweet green peas out of their pods; my tiny hands carefully picking them out one by one. As a kid, this wasn’t a task I was excited about but it’s remained a special memory I cherish now and certainly don’t take for granted. A fun fact my Abuelita recently shared, is that it wasn’t until she emigrated here from Peru in her early 20’s, that she taught herself how to cook—for survival. I have no doubt the ancestors were flowing through her as she created what came to be her menú. She made sopas, y caldos, y guisos, y tallarines, the best garlic rice ever, and my absolute favorite dish she would cook for me on my birthday: escabeche de pollo. I’ll also never forget her desserts, on the rare occasions she made them, mazamorra morada and budín, goodness in your mouth like nothing else. She would make so much more than just this shortlist.

I miss her cooking. When I eat or smell something that reminds me of her food, my eyes well up, and when I make something and hit those flavor notes she was so good at creating, I can’t help but feel like she’ll always be with me here, in every kitchen I step into. 

One dish she was especially good at was Papa a la Huancaína. Recently it hit me that I no longer follow her recipe, and I can’t even describe the sadness that came over me with this realization. I’ve had to develop my own take on it, either for meeting specific dietary requirements, or achieving a higher-yielding recipe, yet, hers will always be my starting point and foundation for flavor and taste. My abuelita’s Papa a la Huancaína was perfect and I now want to share it with the world, so it lives on forever.

(yields 6-8 appetizer-size servings)

equipment necessary
blender, stove top, medium/large boiling pot

sauce ingredients
1 cup of oil (vegetable, or another light tasting oil of your preference)
1 egg (raw)
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp of ají amariilo, paste or fresh/frozen
(Peruvian hot pepper, can be measured to taste/spice level)
Salt and Black Pepper, pinch of each or measured to taste
½ - 1 lime, squeezed fresh
1 tub/500g light ricotta cheese, fresh and water drained

complete dish and garnish ingredients
6-8 yukon gold potatoes, boiled, peeled, cooled and sliced
3-4 hard boiled eggs
*iceberg lettuce and Kalamata olives optional

In blender, pour in the cup of oil and cracked raw egg, blend to a mayonnaise consistency.
Next, in the same blender with the now whipped base, add the garlic, half of the cheese,
and the ají amarillo – blend to smooth/creamy consistency.
Squeeze half of the lime in the blender into sauce, add the remainder of cheese, with salt and black pepper-
blend again to the same smooth/creamy consistency.
If sauce requires more liquid to reach smooth and creamy, squeeze in remaining half of lime and/or add a small splash of either
milk/cream/evaporated milk/nut milks of your preference – continue to add as needed to reach that final consistency.
If sauce gets too thin, blend with small chunks of a boiled potato at a time. 

Once sauce is complete, line dish/plate/bowl with lettuce if desired,
place potatoes (boiled, peeled, cooled and sliced) and pour sauce over top. Garnish with half
a hardboiled egg, and 1-2 Kalamata olives, and enjoy my abuelita Nelly’s specialty – Papa a la Huancaína.  

Aemilius Milo is an accomplished performance artist, organizer, and social entrepreneur. Following a decade involved in Queer/Trans performance theatre spaces in tkaronto, in the fall of 2018 Milo officially launched Comiditas; a small food business/catering company specializing in Peruvian food creations, with a focus on community engagement. They hope to continue expanding Comiditas sustainably and mindfully, in a variety of ways and directions, remaining active in communities for many years to come. IG:@foodbycomiditas

Ayelen’s Arrival

Scene of performers Lido Pimienta, Ximena Huizi and Manuel Rodriguez Saenz dancing and singing in traditional clothing and face paint. The text reads "El Renacer no es facil tu y yo nos conocimos donde la oscuridad imploro mi llegada re elegi eres producto mio y yo tuyo momento de sangre, carne y amor"

By: Fiya Bruxa

Above: Scene from Ayelen featuring performers Lido Pimienta, Ximena Huizi, Manuel Rodriguez Saenz, and costume design by Shalak Attack. Photo by Akipari. 

Ayelen, a love story in the midst of mining exploitation, in which the only way to find peace was to heal open wounds. Ayelen was a script I wrote and directed by piecing together images of spirits, animals and scenes that had appeared in my dreams. It was a story that trespassed dimensions and arrived in this realm to be heard. It was a journey manifested into magical realism.

Over a span of five years, a female eagle came to visit me in dreams. Her name was Ayelen. She always arrived when I least expected her, sometimes months, even years would pass without hearing from her. Little by little, as moons passed and I slept, she came to tell me her story. By the time her last visits came around, she spoke so clearly that I could no longer deny her voice. And so began the process of gathering all that she had shared with me and writing it down.

In a back and forth dance between the dream world and this world, began the transcription of ephemeral imagery. And because dreams are not binary, nor dialectical, I simply had the task of revealing them in written form. Ayelen spoke; the first step to creating this story was simply to listen. Between colourful wings and tied wings, cries and freedom, she told me her story of trees and rivers, of caves and skies, of love and loss. The challenge here was not knowing if I had chosen the best literal interpretation of the abstract images I had witnessed while asleep. I simply had to trust that the story would manifest in its most authentic state.

I chose to weave the dream imagery into a tapestry that also included factual research reflective of this realm planet earth, more specifically the mining industry. It is here that the dream images of caves and birds were woven together with mining exploitation. Dreams are not defined in morality, and therefore my intention with Ayelen was also not a moral one. Ayelen was simply a poetic reflection of our humanity in the context of our ever lasting obsession with mining and the effects it inevitably has on our ecosystems. Ayelen was a manifestation of oppression, love and healing.

We are a frenzied society validated by our utility, where our happiness is measured in economic terms. We move full speed ahead with consumption, and appease our egos with every purchase we make. With a constant outward gaze, whether it be via consumption, commodifying our “success”, or obsessively giving ourselves labels in order to categorically feel empowered in the gaze of others, we often don’t let ourselves sit still and reconnect. We are told to move quickly and to produce quickly, in order to be constantly validated. Since it is difficult to commodify authentic spirituality, we are also taught to ignore the ephemeral, the magical, the esoteric. Yet, there is something priceless and infinitely reflective of love, when we trust a creative journey.

Above:“Kemé” by Fiya Bruxa, 2014, from the painting series Ayelen [

In a timeless space of dreams, where utility is obsolete, we may find magic that awakens our centre. With no rational explanation other than simply listening to an ephemeral dream world, a vibration is felt, a fire is lit, and a story is told. Ayelen was this vibration, this wave that shook an equilibrium and by doing so brought healing. I use the word healing, because I felt my inner growth in relation to the creation of this story. I was also witness to the emotive feedback from audience members who expressed healing from watching the production of this story. Being classically trained in theatre, and having worked for years in the industries of theatre, television, and film, I am aware of the formulas, of the rational calculations, and of the formatting that is required to satisfy industry norms. And yet, when Ayelen arrived she was not the status quo. She came as medicine, as a healer. She did not come as a rational package or linear storyline. She came in abstract form. And she did not give up, returning time and time again, until her story had manifested in this world. It is this essence of unexplainable fleeting magic that is a reminder that medicine comes to us in different forms.

We all travel to the realm of dreams and witness unique images, and if we so choose to embrace this journey and share that vulnerable state with others, something magical can happen. Sometimes we have to trust that creation falls outside of time, utility, and commodity. It is delicate, and we must be careful, as with all creation, that it contribute to good medicine, so that we may all heal together. En un mar de sueños, donde todos los dormidos, con ojos cerrados y almas despiertas, viajamos por dimensiones surrealistas, es posible lograr escuchar los susurros de verdades eternos y sanar nuestras heridas.

Thank you to the numerous dreams, and to the various theatre companies, festivals, artists and elders that have supported this script. Thank you Alameda Theatre, Aluna Theatre, Native Earth, Nightwood Theatre, Criminal Theatre, SummerWorks Festival, Caminos Festival and Theatre Ontario, Rosa Laborde, Solange Ribeiro, Ximena Huizi, Lido Pimienta, Marcelo Arroyo, Ohm Shanti, Manuel Rodriguez Saenz, Andre du Toit, Shalak Attack, Bruno Smoky, Brandon Valdivia, Omar Cito Perez, Rodrigo Ardiles, May Truong and Ale Monreal. Thank you Ayelen for trusting me with your story.

Fiya bRUXA
Fiya Bruxa is an international award win- ning visual artist, actress, lmmaker, and writer. Her artistic vision pays homage to those who have, or continue to, overcome adversity.