Tag Archives: Cuban

Christmas Cooking Challenge – Part II Lost in Translation

Rene and Mom

Rene and Teri battle it out

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):

Delicious Onions with Cabrales

Roasted Sweet Onions with Cabrales

Roasted Sweet Onions and Cabrales (Spanish Blue Cheese)
Parsnip Bisque
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.

My Mom’s Flan Christmas 2011

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 27thIn 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!

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Christmas Cooking Challenge

From the look of things you would think all was right in the world – Kim Jong Il is dead, snowstorms are causing airport delays, and holiday vacation is just around the corner. Little did I know that I was gonna be stuck cooking Christmas Eve dinner this year.

Now I love the holidays, not just for the lights, the sweets and the silly fun of it all, but also the chance to be a carefree kid again as my parents inevitably reclaim the grinding daily duties of cooking, cleaning and taking care of most everything. But thanks to my blog post THANKSGIVNG WITH FRIENDS OR FAMILY in November, I am screwed. My dad was reading it and let my mom take a look. She finally got over her feelings about it and called to tell me in her thick Cuban accent, “I read your blog. It was vedy, vedy funny. And then I got vedy, vedy angry.” As a result, my mom told my family that she is going on strike and handing the job of cooking Christmas Eve dinner (Cubans do their eating on Christmas Eve not Christmas Day) to me so she can write about my cooking on the internet. [Parker Platform is reserving a spot for her rant.]

Although I wish I could go into this with no cares, easily creating a menu that would knock her socks off, I’ve instead had to spend my holiday stressing. Not only is my husband vegetarian (not vegan), but my Dad has gout and doesn’t know that it’s better to watch your diet during the rest of the year so you can take advantage of the good stuff when it counts during the holidays. As a result, my menu must be awesome without meat, shellfish nor certain fishes, no purine rich foods like mushrooms, cauliflower, spinach, and well basically any fun foods that make a feast festive. So wish me luck as I come up with something that says Christmas but lets the Vegetarian partake and Gout Boy not go immobile. Stay tuned next week for the results and my mom’s vengeance review. She has assured me that she will show no mercy.

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Thanksgiving with Friends or Family

My friend Dionne hard at work in the kitchen

Can everyone’s younger sibling that still goes on about the tragedy of celebrating Thanksgiving please leave the room? We’re talking Thanksgiving–the All-American feast of food where we reap the rewards of our abundant produce and edible imports from around the world, so that at no given time throughout the year our people are never without avocados or strawberries. Food–it’s our national obsession. To become a citizen it’s required you overindulge in it and watch hours of TV shows watching people eating it, preparing and eating it, and eating it and commenting on eating it. Food is what brought our nation’s people together before killing each other and ripping one group of people from their homes. We don’t even care if food is good on this foodie day, until you’re halfway through a bland mash of green beans and potatoes.

If you’re staying home for the holidays and celebrating with a bunch of “orphans,” your taste buds will most likely be graced with a meal prepared by the best cook, who is most inspired and who resides in the coziest setting. If it’s family, the host is usually the worst cook but she/he is dependable and does it every year and we call it tradition. Of course in this day and age there is also the TDay Potluck or TDay Wild Card/Bi-Polar–as some dishes may turn out heavenly while other recipes cull from a guest’s family’s tradition.

I myself give thanks this year for not having to spend it with family.  If I did, my husband and I would travel to Houston, where my mom takes over cooking duties and as a guest, I can only sit back and give thanks. As someone who loves to cook, it always makes me a little crazy to hand over a holiday with such exciting produce options to my mom who prefers to make everything from a can or box. Not that I blame her too much–the woman has always hated cooking but loves that she has to do it or else…EVERYONE WOULD STARVE TO DEATH!  Obviously this has always been of critical concern:

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. Difference of course being the turkey, cranberry sauce from a can (my mom must have the can-formed rings around the jelly), and the yams from a can covered in marshmallows (as wrong as that is I admit it’s yummy). The rest was same ol’ same ol’.  I’m Cuban so what we had was most likely different from what you had, but trust me when you have the following at least 3 times a week in some kind of random rotation, even if it tastes good, it is not exotic or exciting: picadillo–a kind of Cuban chili my mom would make use of on TDay to stuff the turkey, boiled yuca, mashed potatoes from a box, salad of greens and tomatoes, black beans and rice, tostones (smashed fried plantains–not the sweet kind) or platanos fritos (fried plantains–the sweet kind), a so-called baguette from the grocery store bakery, and for dessert, flan. Now the flan was a thrice yearly thing my sibling and I actually got excited about because as opposed to what you might think from that picture above, my mom never had anything sweet around the house except for maybe frosted corn flakes which we coveted.

My Mom's holiday flan one year. She couldn't find a platter big enough.

No this year, I have chosen to spend it with friends, where the food is always different and tastes festive. Where conversation do not mirror super committee political debates that lead to nowhere and wine always flows. I give thanks this year to staying put and keeping my eye on the food prize. I am American and I will be stuffed!

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