By December 23, I was so ready for this Christmas Cooking Challenge. Oh sure, my mom had tradition and flan on her side, but after weeks of stressing over what to make, I, the next generation, finally came up with a menu that would be delicious, could be eaten by a vegetarian and a dad with gout, and that paid tribute to some of our heritage while steering clear of Cuban Noche Buena dinners (so I wouldn’t step on anymore toes and find myself having to cook again). While my mom enjoyed her holiday vacation relaxing as I would have, watching Korean Soap Operas with my dad, I cooked for two days to make the following recipes (most from www.epicurious.com):
Roasted Sweet Onions and Cabrales (Spanish Blue Cheese)
Ground “Beef” Collard Green Bundles with Hazelnuts and Golden Raisins
Roasted Beets with Onion Marmalade and Parmesan
Manchego and Membrillo (Quince Paste) Napoleons
Cranberry Brandy Jelly –placed in a can as an homage to my mom
No Knead Bread
And for Dessert: Flan–which thankfully my mom made after much begging from my nephew, myself and family. Some things are just too precious to give up.
End result: all plates licked-clean! That’s right! Different with dietary restrictions was still delicious. I proudly asked my mom what she thought of my multi-course meal. She replied in an unusually delicate high-pitched Cuban accent, “Eeet was good.” She seemed hesitant to say much of anything else so I asked her if she needed me to interview her for the blog to help her sort out her thoughts. Without hesitation she responded in not so high a pitch, “No.” The next day I reminded her that I needed her blog post by Wednesday or Friday at the latest, so if it was easier for her, the interview process would take no time. “No,” she said as she put on her reading glasses and headed to her home office. She told me she wanted to write her thoughts down and assured me she would get it done. I explained that I wanted it before the new year because afterwards people no longer think of Christmas. She shot me a look and then reminded me in great detail, why that way of thinking is wrong since Christmas season continues past December 25. Noticing that she was going off course I immediately veered her back into her home office to write and left to visit my husband’s family for the remainder of the trip. I couldn’t wait to hear what my mom had to say and on December 30th I received her response to my dinner:
“O.K .So now I get to defend my wonderful cuisine after my sweet daughter spent her time the other day criticizing it, saying horrible things that seemed funny at first, but then, when I realized each one of the words or better said, adjectives she used referred to my cooking or food, it dawned on me!!!!…….how serious an issue this is.
But before I get into the food part, I will remind you that even though it is December 28th, we are still in the Christmas season which started on the night of Dec. 24th and ends on January 9th or the Baptism of the Lord’s day, so please do not let yourself be guided by the materialistic culture which starts throwing away Christmas trees even by yesterday the 27th. In between, there is the wonderful day of Epiphany or the Three Wise Men’s Day that brought you all your Christmas gifts. Do you remember Rene? That is why the Nativity set with the Holy Family, the little sheep, shepherds, donkey and cow, stay put beside our Christmas tree until the “real” Christmas season ends. I am not getting away from the subject but Rene this is just a reminder…….”
I told you.
“This ties up with our Christmas meal tradition. Ja Ja [Spanish for Ha Ha]….yes, when I read your comments about it, at first I laughed but as I finished reading it …….it dawned on me!!! Hey, she is criticizing not only me, but “my” wonderful Cuban culture smelling food!!!!
First, you have to be grateful for the most wonderful Cuban mom the world has ever known. Second, be grateful that I fed and pumped B vitamins into you to prepare you for any future hard times that might come your way (not all moms do that), or in case you would marry a vegetarian thin guy with no understanding of roasted-pig-loving Cubans (which you did). Third I was such a perfect mother, that I was very aware not to let you or your siblings have too many sweets, saving your future husband hundreds of dollars in dentist’s fees.
And you did not get fat on account of my cooking, you had milk, eggs or meat, bread, etc. everyday as the pyramid of food suggests. What more perfection do you expect from a mom?
Stop saying that my food smelled too much……and if it did, it was because it was the “real” thing, not the fake meat you eat now. No wonder it does not have any kind of smell at all!!!! Mine had that great smell depending on how I felt that day: if I was happy I would use more garlic, if not I would use maybe more onions, if I was angry I would overlook taking out the bag of giblets in the “American turkey,” but that was what made my cuisine “unique”.
Dear daughter, that is what tradition is all about, the same smell, the same ingredients, the same cook, the same food …..the Yuca, the roasted pig (better with an apple in his mouth), the ripe sweet plantains, and the black beans CUBAN STYLE (only Cubans do them right, and I do them better right from the can, but I know how to dress them up the right way so they come out YUMMY). Then the salad could not be left out. Even though your grandfather thought that was horse’s food, that along with the yams had to be part of our Cuban Noche Buena as a way to acknowledge the place of you and your siblings’ birth place…the U.S.A.
The only thing missing in our Noche Buena most of the time, was not being in Miami with the rest of the family and having the same old good, loud, energetic and democratic conversation where everyone has the same right to talk over the other person’s loud voice.”
I beg to differ. Though the clan in Houston is small, it is just as loud and proudly opinionated.
“One thing I can say about you cooking the whole meal this year as my punishment for all your criticism…….is that it did not smell one bit, and that my dear daughter, does not help to make memories, where your family one day can blame you for all their “natural” imperfections or for that matter start a TRADITION. One last thing I will say in favor of my smelly, same old same old food for Christmas, is that you will always remember it no matter where you are on Christmas Eve. Chao Chao.”
Where did she get the idea that I thought her food smelled bad? I reread my blog and found the sentence she took to mean that I thought her food stunk:
“What I especially find interesting about the family TDay meal is that it somehow always reeks a little of the same dishes mom used to make almost every day of the week.”
Although my mother and I speak the same languages, some things don’t translate well–especially the word “reeks.” I felt horrible. Already I felt kinda bad when I heard that my Thanksgiving blog offended my mom, but I felt bad the same way you feel in an embarrassing moment, like forgetting to lock a bathroom door and getting caught with your pants down–it’s awful but in the end it’s kinda funny. That’s what I thought the plane of emotions were for this whole Christmas Cooking Challenge, until I read her retort. Do you know how insulting that is? A cook can be told something tastes bad, fair enough, but smells bad? When food tastes bad you think of other foods that taste bad, but when food smells bad you don’t even think of food, you think of every disgusting odor in the world that has nothing to do with it: Port-O-Potty’s, litter boxes, dirty laundry, that dude on the bus. In her mind I might as well have kicked her in the gut and posted a photo of the kicking in action on the internet. She was so upset she didn’t even get to writing about my food. Man, oh man. Needless to say I spent the rest of 2011 hugging her, kissing up to her and trying to explain the different uses of the word “reeks.” After awhile she finally started to sort of believe me and has been calling me ever since to get the recipes I used for Noche Buena, one by one.
So what did I learn from all this? 1. Talking sh** causes wars. 2. Remember when you were fifteen and irritated and you told your parents that they didn’t understand you? Guess what? You were right, so it’s best not to mess with them.
Happy New Year everyone!
- Christmas Cooking Challenge (parkerplatform.com)