It’s pretty common to spot celebrities in New York. Well, common for most people. I usually stare at them blankly, trying to place their face, then realize half way down the block that I didn’t go to high school with them. It’s a little less common to see someone you can hear yourself reminiscing about in your rocking chair years, beginning with “there was a man who…” That’s what it was like seeing Joe Ades, the “peeler guy” in Union Square Market. Listening to his English sing song selling potato peelers on beautiful market Saturdays made you want to jump in a chalk drawing. I still remember the excitement I felt when I saw him set up at the smaller Greenmarket in Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, feeling that out tiny market had finally “arrived”.
For the past few days, I’ve been looking for references to food in Latin American literature. I haven’t found many yet to post, but I’ve thought of a million songs. El Manisero or The Peanut Vendor has always been one of my favorites. The vendor calls out to Caserita, a housewife, but she doesn’t realize it until the moment has just passed. I thought of being in the kitchen trying to teach myself something new, not recognizing the result I was seeking until it’s just a second too late. This performance by Antonio Machín captures the grace we’d all like to have but most need to leave for another day’s try.
When my cousin Marta, who lives in Spain, asked if I’d tried the Thermomix, a “kitchen robot” she’d received as a gift that did “almost everything”, I thought she was referring to a souped up crock pot I might look at the next time I was in a Williams-Sonoma or wishlisting on Amazon. My curiosity was piqued when I came across this article in the Wall Street Journal, “Snaring the Elusive Thermomix” by Raymond Sokolov. Learning that it was in fact a robot that did do almost everything and simultaneously too, I was disappointed to read that it wasn’t available in the U.S. By the time I found Spanish food blogs that listed both regular and Thermomix recipes on their sites, I was feeling a little deprived. Not of a machine I might not need after all, but of the Jetsons future I thought we’d all have by now. I’ve asked Marta to let me know what it’s like to cook with a Thermomix and how she uses it. In the meantime, I’ve posted a clip of how I imagine it works until I know differently.
This past week was my older sister Cami’s birthday, so I have been wound up planning an informal, low-key picnic in Central Park for 40 people. When I sent out the evite, I was worried that people wouldn’t be able to make it. When the RSVPs climbed, I was worried they all meant it when they said they were. I did my best to anticipate any logistical problems – were the bathrooms at the Delacorte Theater open, were leashed dogs allowed on the Great Lawn, were you allowed to hang a piñata from Central Park’s look-but-don’t-climb trees? (Answers: Yes, Yes, and Not if they see you). I prayed for sun but when I woke up to a gray Saturday morning, I was overwhelmed by the enormous number of things left to do for a picnic that was so obviously going be awash in early afternoon thunderstorms and soaked donkey piñatas.
I wanted Cami to have the classic Cuban spread – cangrejitos (crab-shaped puffs filled with sweet ham), crispy croquetas, meat filled empanadas, bocaditos (small white bread sandwiches filled with flavored cream cheese), and pastelitos de guayaba. Armed with 4 sheets of puff pastry, 3 bricks of cream cheese, ham and picadillo fillings, and the last of the homemade guava paste I’d brought from home, I set to work. To add a further complication, I was also settling in my mother and Chiqui who had arrived the night before for a two week stay (Chiqui being the 8 pound chihuahua who has replaced me in my mother’s affections).
The few hours I had given myself to prepare evaporated between finding extra closet space, outlets for chargers and rolling out emapanada dough. With just an hour to go, it seemed hopeless, and I started weighing the evils of less food versus having friends wandering the park looking for a spot that hadn’t been staked out. Then someone, probably Chiqui, set my iTunes to Celia Cruz. Now while listening to Celia cannot solve every problem, it does make unhappiness almost impossible. Somewhere Between Cao Cao Mani Picao and Oye Mi Rumba, time slowed enough for me to finish my first empanadas and my mother to cut the crusts of my sister’s favorite tuna bocaditos. By the time I climbed up the subway stairs to 81st Street & Central Park West with a box full of Cuban treats and five minutes to spare, I could finally see the blue skies I first felt when Celia started singing.
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.