I don’t remember having currants – red, black, or otherwise – growing up, so I was surprised to find them in one of the older Cuban cookbooks I’d been using, Delicias de las Mesa by Maria Antonieta Reyes Gavalán. Written in the 1920s, I came across it at the University of Miami’s Cuban Heritage Collection. While most other Cuban cookbooks date from the mid-fifties when everyone was only too happy to embrace cans and convenience, Gavalán’s book captures an earlier time, referencing ingredients and techniques that had fallen out of use but worth reconsidering. The book itself was so worn and frayed that it couldn’t be scanned or photocopied, so I spent most of my time in the archives furiously taking notes before reluctantly giving it back. It was complete coincidence when my aunt Marta called from New Orleans to tell me her friend had given her a copy of the book that I could have. Read more
I’ve always been superstitious about throwing away keys. It could be a tiny gold key to a tweenage diary, an extra hotel key I forgot to return, or a loose spare to a forgotten door in a past dorm, house or apartment. I’ll be ready to toss it then have a last minute misgiving that makes me put it back in the drawer, giving in to the anxiety that I’ll be faced with a lock I can’t open. That’s probably why I was so fascinated when I heard about Jewish families in Spain who kept the keys to their homes after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. A poignant detail in a larger history that’s always stood out in my mind. Convinced it was a misguided policy of Queen Isabella’s that would soon be corrected, they kept their keys with them. Another story I heard soon after that’s very popular, is about a man who stopped by a local bar in Toledo to ask directions to the house where his family had lived five hundred years before. Sent to a nearby address and carrying the key they had saved, he came back a few minutes later, shaken, only able to get out the words, it worked. Read more
I really miss apples when they’re gone. I try to follow the seasons, stay local, only buy what’s available at the farmer’s markets but have to admit that I cheat all the time when it comes to apples. Not that I have to these days – the markets are bursting with every variety. My great grandmother, who grew up on a farm in Asturias where they made their own cider, lived to be a very healthy and graceful 103. It could have been the apples or the Estée Lauder but its definitely worth a try. Having found a simple recipe for baked apples, I looked for variations with added butter, custard, almonds, or preserves. They all looked great, and I’ll Read more
There was a fig tree in the backyard of the house where my grandfather was born in Yaguajay, Cuba. I know this because he told me the story-often. Having moved with his family to Havana, he found himself in the province years later and decided to knock on the door of his old house. He asked the family living there if they had a fig tree, and they brought him through the house and showed it to him. Only then did he tell them who he was and how he knew it was there. I always wondered why they’d let him go through the house in the first place and pictured their polite confusion while they waited to see where all this was going. Read more
A friend coined the term produce shopaholic on her blog, Mindy’s Recipe for Disaster. If I’d read her post earlier, I may have recognized the symptoms before I went on a why-not-bender at the Park Slope Food Co-op yesterday. Though I love figs, I rarely buy fresh ones. I have plans for tarts and compotes, but the slightest delay and they’re past all use. Still, I couldn’t resist when I found organic Calimyrna figs. I reasoned that the green ones would at least give me a head start, and they were so cute and plump I had to take them home. A quick search online and through my books gave me a couple of ideas. I had some this morning drizzled with peppered honey and Spanish goat cheese with sweet olive oil crackers. It was sweet, spicy, flowery and creamy all at the same time. The recipe from Bon Appétit could not be easier, so there is no reason to put off using them straight away. I also found an interesting recipe for fig compote with red wine and spices among the formidable 1080 Recipes, one of my favorite cookbooks/step stools that I’ll try next. Now that I’m hooked, I’ll need more figs.
For the complete Fresh Figs with Goat Cheese and Peppered Honey recipe click here.
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