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Archive for April, 2009

The Spanish Goose Whisperer

I’d heard Dan Barber mention an ethical foie gras producer he’d discovered during a panel discussion for the Brooklyn Book Festival in 2007 so I was excited to come across a talk he gave this winter where he elaborated on his encounter with Eduardo Sousa, the owner of the Pateria de Sousa.  I always associate Extramadura with drought and a barren landscape so I fell in love with the paradisiacal description of the farm.  But then I’m not a goose.

Old Clothes/New Beginnings

When I asked my grandmother who’d taught her how to cook, her answer was always “el exilio”. Married in the 40’s and raising children in early 50’s Havana, she was very much a part of a generation that believed every modern convenience was invented to limit their time in the kitchen – a movement that if she hadn’t followed, she would have invented. Then like many women emigrating to Miami and starting over in a new country with less help and fewer resources to feed their families, the one guide they all shared was Nitza Villapol’s Cocina Criolla.

Known as the Cuban Julia Child (if those two things aren’t in fact mutually exclusive), her book became the center of every cuban kitchen in exile, providing a way for them to see their family’s through a difficult transition and begin recreating what they’d left behind. A controversial figure, whenever I have a basic question about Cuban cooking the first suggestion is always to check el libro de Nitza. Reading through it now, I find all kinds of idiosyncrasies. Cubans are unrepentant Francophiles so while they’re french terms sprinkled throughout, there’s an entire section that puts “pie” in quotes and names ingredients by their American brand names. Only available in a slight, paperback edition that looks dog-eared even when it’s new, it’s a popular gift even now for Cuban women who are either getting married or leaving home, whichever comes first. My own copy found me when I was helping to pack my grandmother’s belongings after she’d passed. I was shocked. First, that she owned a cookbook and second that it had clearly been used. Read more

Zagats in Cuba

I thought this article about food in Cuba from the Atlantic Monthly online was pretty accurate.  When I visited Havana in 2000, any food I had outside my family’s home tasted like ashes, and the service was indifferent when not insulting.  Inside, however, my great aunts were able to work miracles with the little food we’d brought, together with the fresh vegetables that had come in earlier that week from the countryside and sold house to house for dollars.   I remember a big part of each morning involved picking the stones from the rice.  There were also tiny stones in the queso guajiro we ate every night with bread and Menier chocolate from Miami.  Stones in rice inedible, stones in cheese dipped in chocolate, oddly fantastic.

Lost in Translation

Finding Latin American staples in New York is harder than you’d think.  A little spoiled, I expect everything to eventually make it’s way here though the trick is finding where its landed.  Divided by a common language, a dominican grocer will give you a noncommittal shrug when asked whether the mountain of batatas he’s standing in front is not actually the cuban boniatos that you’re looking for.  Although I’m fluent in Spanish, I have a second-generation-american’s insecurity when faced with a native speaker and assume the miscommunication is on my end.  That’s how I ended up lost in Jackson Heights buying a colombian arepa griddle which is actually a mexican comal for making tortillas, or maybe it’s both?

Tweet Treats

I’ve had a twitter account for a few weeks but would still rather be a “friend” than a “follower”.  I have to admit, I was equally suspicious of facebook once upon a time, before I discovered the scrabulous app and addiction took over.  This article from today’s New York Times may be my first good bad reason to finally give in to Twitter.

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