I find an excuse to visit the Publix near my mother’s house almost every day that I’m in Miami. And it’s not for the daily free chocolate chip cookie their Danish bakery has for every child (and shameless adult) who asks – though that doesn’t hurt. When every recipe I attempt in New York turns into a scavenger hunt or compromise, I love the everydayness Read more
I was working on a post on the Latin pantry for Devour the Blog when I decided to take a look at my own. I’m constantly straightening and organizing my shelves in the on-going game of kitchen Jenga that my limited New York storage space forces me to play. I can’t complain though because a few years ago my cupboards would have been bare. It took me awhile to figure out what I like, how I should store it, and how often I would use it. I hate waste and there were a few forgotten items staring at me resentfully from behind the much loved olive oil and sea salt, but I think I got it down to the essentials. I don’t know if it’s pure projection or all those chiles and peppers, but Latin American products seem to vibrate just a little bit more than others. I feel like if I winked at the woman on the P.A.N. Harina bag she just might wink back and I’m also absolutely terrified of the Abuelita on Nestlé’s Mexican chocolate discs though I’m sure she means well. Read more
I’m not devoutly superstitious so I have no problem picking and choosing which New Year’s traditions to follow. While 12 grapes at midnight are non-negotiable anywhere Spanish is spoken, for the rest of Latin America it’s pretty much an open field. I’ve written wishes for the coming months (Venezuela) then throw them in the fire so no one could steal them. Unfortunately, I forgot what I’d written before the paper had turned to ash, leaving me with unstarted resolutions. If I lived in Honduras, I’d make an “Año Viejo” doll stuffed with fireworks to set off at midnight if I didn’t find effigies and fireworks equally frightening. I’ve never thrown a bucket of water out of my window to rid myself of evil spirits (Puerto Rico), but a water pipe bursting a few years ago started off one of my favorite New Year’s nights and great year. A Peruvian friend suggested I wander around the block with a suitcase if I wanted to travel in 2011, but I’ve had enough of packing bags and getting nowhere in the last few days. Fortunately, everyone seems to be in agreement on an underwear color scheme for the occassion (red=love, green=money, yellow=luck, white=health). I don’t know if it works, but at the very least it forces you to get your priorities straight before midnight. Read more
It’s always the little things that trip me up. I was thinking of making arepas last weekend when I came across a recipe for Venezuelan arepitas dulces. Also known as arepuelas or anisitas in Colombia, they’re smaller arepas sweetened with melado de papelón and fried for breakfast or dessert. Infused with whole anise seeds, they seemed as soothing and comforting as the candies in your grandmother’s purse. Read more
Some weekends are harder to let go than others. I was really enjoying this one when Sunday night interrupted. In the hope of letting it go just a little while longer, I decided to post the recipe for tisana, a Venezuelan party drink I mixed for my sister’s birthday brunch. I’m always a little behind so I like to have a pitcher ready when people get there to buy time. Traditionally served without wine at children’s parties, it’s light and fruity and worth taking back from the kids. I wanted to add star fruit as a garnish but there was none to be found. I’ll just have to wait till next weekend. Read more
I have a regrettably low tolerance for alcohol. Typically, I’ll sip a mojito till it’s watered down to nothing or nurse a light Mexican beer most of the night. I’m that girl. So it’s odd that I’ve spent this week spiking sorbet with cava, getting a lobster drunk on rum, and now drizzling lady fingers with vermouth and yet more rum for a Bien Me Sabe, a Venezuelan dessert of lady fingers layered with coconut cream.
Whenever I have people over, I always go to Latin Chic written by my friend Isabel González-Whitaker and co-author Carolina Buia. Living in the neutral territory of New York City where everyone is from somewhere else, it’s full of simple but great ideas to add a cultural twist that’s honest to entertaining in Latin American style. Looking for a dessert to bring to a dinner party, I made their version of Bien Me Sabe or “It Tastes Good to Me”. This one in particular comes from Carolina’s great-aunt Mercedes Camps. The legend goes that she made it for Venezuela’s future president Rómulo Betancourt when he was hiding from political adversaries in her home. It’s impossible not to admire a woman who not only offers refuge to those in need but then throws in dessert. After three weeks, she smuggled out the father of Venezuelan democracy disguised in one of her dresses. Read more
I was happy to hear that Miss Venezuela had won the Miss Universe title for a historical second year in a row. Though I don’t follow the pageant and can’t speak for the universe, they do seem to want it more than any other country. I think it was seeing this in the news that reminded me of a Venezuelan restaurant I had wanted to try for a few weeks. When I read in the New York Times about the patacón Maracucho served in El Cocotero, I felt deprived. Having grown up on fried plantains, Read more
While I often hear about Venezuela’s petroleum industry, it’s less common to read about their cacao plantations. That’s why I was so interested in this New York Times article by Simon Romero, In Venezuela, Plantations of Cacao Stir Bitterness. I was fascinated by how cacao like oil becomes a mixed blessing.
I was looking at different dessert recipes when my cousin sent me one for a Venezuelan bienmesabe, a coconut custard cake that required me to crack one open and extract the milk. Picturing hammers and machetes and emergency room visits, I thought she was crazy if she thought I was going milk my own coconut. My next thought was where in New York to find them. In Miami this would not be a problem. Though Miami Beach has become unrecognizable in many ways, you still see men pushing grocery carts of fresh green coconuts along red hot sidewalks. With one balletic move, they’ll swing a giant machete to cut a tiny hole just big enough for a slender straw for a coco frio. Fresh or dry, I knew my best chance was Essex Market in the Lower East Side. I found them straightaway at Batista Grocery. The clerk helped me pick out a few by shaking them to make sure they had water inside and offered to crack them open for me to be sure that the meat inside was still fresh. For a moment, I was tempted. It would be so much easier, but I was decided and it seemed a shame not to go through with it. After all, it was a pretty common kitchen technique before we were all hooked on cans. So here are some pictures along with a few things I learned by milking my own coconut… Read more
Now that I thought I had the right arepa pan, I was dying to test it out. An increasingly popular street food trend, I wanted to master making them at home so I could have them with leftover guisados and the Colombian cheese I could only buy as a wheel. Generally, I prefer the peaceful precision of baking, so I decided to follow the directions on the package and stuff them with ropa vieja I had left from earlier this week. The results were disappointing, a little too messy, and definitely too raw.