It’s Christmas Eve and I have a bag of sour oranges waiting for me on the counter of my mother’s home in Miami to make the mojo. My family of 50+ and counting takes turns hosting Nochebuena and this year it fell on us (collectively known as las Peláez) to plan and my cousin Cecilia to host. Ceci and I used to spend the weeks before Christmas looking for hidden presents after school and now we’re texting each other centerpieces and searching for the least plastic-looking plastic plates at Party City. It’s been a lot of work but grudging fun. With each run to find the best turrones or tub of manteca, I can appreciate how much easier it is to plan Cuban Christmas in an essentially Cuban city. Still, living between New York and Miami, I always have the sense of missing home while being home. This year I got to write about “Bringing a Cuban Christmas -Mojo and All – to Brooklyn“ for Edible’s joint holiday issue (Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, and East End) so in some way I got to experience both at the same time. Wishing everyone and peaceful and happy Nochebuena! On a side note, the planning committee nixed my idea for a snow making machine but that will just give me something to look forward to next time around.
The first time I had these persimmon pies I’d just hit send on a major deadline while on a press trip to Tabasco country in Lafayette, Louisiana. After a sleepless night, I followed the smell of bacon to the Marsh House kitchen where chef and food writer Stanley Dry was making breakfast -chicory coffee, eggs, boudin sausage, fig spiced with fennel and bay leaves, and fried pies filled with persimmon jam. It was all good, but I’ve always associated the pies with the heady sense of relief I felt that morning.
I am beyond thrilled to announce that The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History is hitting both real and virtual shelves today. Since our wonderful editor BJ Berti let us know that the finished copies were in the warehouse and on their way a few weeks ago, I imagined receiving them – usually in over-saturated, Doris Day technicolor. The books would run straight off an assembly line, into a box, and onto a truck that would drop them at my door. I’d coolly but swiftly rip it open, hand out the books, and and it would be champagne all around. So many wonderful things have come from this book in the past few weeks that I just needed the one thing that would make it real. The anticipation was maddening and when the books didn’t come, I took to sad-eying the UPS man when he failed to deliver. Finally, just a few hours shy of today’s release date, the books arrived and…I wasn’t there. I came home from a (very un-Doris Day-like) cardio kickboxing class and found the box on my coffee table with a lime green NEW TITLES sticker splashed across the top and my yorkies yapping furiously around it. It was later than I’d expected but exactly on time. Most importantly, it was very, very real. Read more
The Cuban Table will be here next week but I couldn’t wait until then to share a recipe from the book. I’d been planning on this post for awhile but it was hard to choose just one. Not only are they all attached to a memory or favorite moment during this long process, they’re also attached to some of my favorite people. They were great company as I wrote and I’m so excited to introduce them to you. Even now, I feel like when I open the cover they all start talking once – a familiar feeling if you’ve ever walked into a Cuban gathering. It’s also at those parties where you’ll most often find … Arroz Con Pollo. And that’s how I finally decided. Read more
When I’m asked how I decided what to post, I always say that one recipe leads to another. But that’s only half a truth. More specifically, it comes down to what was left and what I can make of it. This chowder, for one, started with a recipe for quinoa croquettes. With the croquettes done and quinoa to spare, I started looking for more ways to use it and came across this recipe in Jose Garces’ Latin Road Home. I was most drawn to the ingredient list featuring staples I always have but never seem to use completely – heavy cream, parsley, the odd potato. This also meant picking up a few extras quarts of vegetable stock and pulling fresh corn from the dwindling piles at the market. I followed the recipe as closely as possible the first time around including the fried potatoes, and crumbled bacon. When it was finished, I realized I had a almost enough left to make a second batch. I was going into a busy week and knew I’d be rewarming it over a few nights, so I made a vegetarian version. Also, I was out of bacon. Instead of using the achiote paste that’s been living in my refrigerator for years with no expiration in site, I used the last of my achiote seeds to make the oil. The chives became scallions, and I added the cream at the end to finish off the pint. The one thing I didn’t get to was the fresh ají costeño pepper sauce Garces suggests, but that will have to wait for the next round.
With the days getting crisp, it seemed like a good time to pick up my much delayed Italian travelogue where I left off – Venice. I’d been once before on a rushed trip that I would describe as a 36-hours of disorientation broken up by moments of heart-stopping beauty – mostly gilded. It’s all very romantic until you realize just how lost you are and panic sets in. A dense concentration of sites that you have to see at least once surrounded by an even denser network of tourists traps hotels, restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops, it was impossible to visit one without falling into the other – especially during our abbreviated trip. On the last day, I felt a little bolder and found myself in Cannaregio. It was the first sign of normal life I’d experienced there, and I promised myself that next time would be different. Read more
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 think my relationship with New York is steady enough that I can admit we’d recently hit a rough patch. I’d spent so much time away last year that it felt like I was living consecutive winters. It wore me down and I took it out on the city that had become all work. Now that we’re having this beautiful summer, every day comes closer to New York’s song-and-dance ideal and I’m in love again. I even gave in and bought a new bicycle -albeit one that is technically older than I am – a copper colored Schwinn Suburban step-through with an honeywood basket. It’s heavy, impractical and my favorite thing in the world right now. Read more
It’s hard to believe now, but I still remember going to friends and family’s homes to see “the vacation pictures”. Magnified on what to me was the big screen, it was one of those things people moaned about (when it wasn’t their own slides in the carousel) but I always loved it – both the scale and the ritual. I hadn’t thought about how obsolete that had become until I came back from a family trip to Italy. Between instagram and facebook, everyone comments on what you’re doing and seeing in real time so there’s not much left to tell and every repeated story feels smaller somehow. Still it’s impossible to travel through Italy without thoughts of futures posts running through my head. Rather than go through it all in one go, I’ve decided to take it city by city and share some favorites places and the recipes that came from them – starting where we did in Florence.
Preparing for the trip, I’d gone through my typical pre-flight checklist which ranges from the entirely doable (download Lonely Planet guide to ipad) to the highly unlikely (learn Italian). The week before coincided with last looks on my manuscript so I tried a more balanced approach -checking bookmarked links and noting a handful of things I absolutely wanted to see and more importantly – eat. Read more
I always had a hard time dropping my pencil and turning in my work as a little girl and it’s not much different now. It has been almost two years since I first posted about The Cuban Table, my collaboration with food photographer Ellen Silverman, but I could have happily kept tweaking and polishing it forever. Luckily it wasn’t up to me which is why I have this lovely cover to share, an actual ink and paper bound book on its way, and an official release date from St. Martin’s Press to look forward to this October! Read more