February has been bittersweet. Back from an amazing research trip to Miami, I was looking forward to celebrating my birthday back home from home in New York when it was swallowed by Nemo. Still I can’t complain and was beyond grateful that my friends were still willing to celebrate with me against all sense. I was lucky not to have any damage, though it is a reminder that recovery is ongoing for my neighbors. If you haven’t already seen it, Zac and Cat Overman have put together All Hands on Deck, an e-book to benefit Restore Red Hook. From Baked to Cacao Prieto to the Ball Field’s El Olomega, it’s a great collection of recipes for a good cause and – as they’d say in Sweden – så Brooklyn. Read more
I was in Miami a few weeks ago when the temperature dipped to the high-60s.* Anywhere else this would have been a non-event in January, but for me it was a big deal. It had been unusually warm through the holidays so my family and I took no chances that this could be our last opportunity for midnight churros at Las Palmas – freshly fried and served with chocolate so thick that the spoon could stand on its own. Read more
I think I’ve put off writing my catching-up post because well…I’m no where near caught up. Several ongoing projects came to a boil all l at once and I’m still waiting for things to settle down again. Now that I realize it might never happen, I decided to take a break and go fishing (through my links)…
Chico & Rita, set largely in 1940’s Havana, Paris and New York and scored by Bebo Valdes. Lovely from the first note, I can only say that the film is una joyita. Though it inexplicably lost the Academy Award to a movie about a lizard (full disclosure I’m both biased and haven’t actually seen Rango), there were some inspiring wins at this year’s Oscars like Christopher Plummer for Beginners and Octavia Spencer for The Help. On her fantastic new blog The Peacock Chronicles, my sister Carmen used a recent experience filming a commercial to write up her own take on the Help controversy in To Maid, Or Not To Maid. Read more
Since this is my first real catching up post this year, I had to find the right image to illustrate the month. It’s been such a mild winter that February didn’t really look like February, so I thought of valentines instead. My absolute favorite came in the form of Fernando Trueba’s
I was promised a powder-puff landing. That’s what my friend Bruce said we’d have in Jamaica – wheels down, puff, puff, touchdown. What happened instead was one of the most terrifying descents I’ve ever experienced – complete with a woman two rows back, loudly making her peace with God, and praying for deliverance. Shell shocked – I started to doubt “the powder puff” landing was really a thing until I heard a mother in the immigration line, point to her children and say, “they’ll never know, they’ll never experience a powder puff.” I may never know either. The machete landing as my sister called it – chop, chop , scream – I could safely cross off my list. Still, the end was the same – we were in Jamaica. Read more
I start every trip to Miami at Versailles Restaurant on Calle Ocho. Versailles lives up to its name with its mirrored walls, court in eternal debate, and heavily bejeweled matrons . The front entrance opens onto a long red carpet leading to the two, raucous dining rooms. There may be music playing at Versailles, but it’s impossible to hear over the sounds of politics, silverware, and full-blast air conditioning. Recognition is key, and upon entering everyone immediately scans the room for familiar faces. A quick table stop or two before being seated can whether you’re given the real menu or the tourist menu in English.
I rarely have Cuban food outside of Miami. Deceptively simple, it’s easy to get wrong. Today, I arrived with a checklist of things I’ve been dreaming of from the moment I booked my flight – tortilla de platanos, croquetas de yucca, ropa vieja, flan de queso. Nevertheless, once there, I ordered to please my waitress. Versailles boasts the boldest wait staff in the Miami and possibly the world. They’re like a female army in tight green, polyester leisure suits trained by hypercritical, but well-meaning Cuban grandmothers. One raised eyebrow or sharp comment, will prompt you to cut down a croqueta order and cancel the fries, yet they seem genuinely disappointed if you don’t clean your plate and order dessert. I had a media noche since it’s hard to find a cuban sandwich made with the traditional pan de agua outside of Miami. It was heavy on the ham but still delicious. The fried plantains were also fantastic, perfectly sweet without being oily. For dessert, I had the brazo gitano, a rolled cake with dulce de leche filling and chocolate frosting. My cake was a little dry, and I was soon begging my sister to share her flan with me. Finally, even though it’s just a macchiato, it tastes so much better when you can call it a cortadito and have it on a warm December day.
When I was little, I made no distinction between the plastic baroque of Versailles and the palaces of books and Disney movies. Even as an adult, it never disappoints. Like going through the looking glass, it becomes as small or big as you need it to be on that day, at that moment. I’ll visit Versailles several times on my trip as I work my way down my list. With each meal, I settle into it’s rhythms and sounds till it’s time to go home again.