Creating Routine

Ugh! I think one of the worst things about moving is creating a routine again. Especially when your kitchen isn’t as set us as you’d like and the cable as yet been connected. Thank God for internet, because if it wasn’t for me being able to read the news, scour blogs and check up on things on social media sites, I’d go insane.

Where should I eat? Where should I go? What should I do? Apart from unpacking and looking for a job, I don’t have much else on my plate and it’s driving me nuts.

Its one thing to visit your old friends, but its another thing to reestablish the routine you once had with them back in the day as well.

I crave a sense of normalness again. May that time come here soon!

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The Root of the Root

Nigella lawson reading her own cookbook

Almost a full decade ago, I stumbled upon the beautiful and captivating presence of Nigella Lawson on the Style Network here in the United States and not long after I found an online community within the website of her namesake. Although I was much younger than almost everyone on that site, I loved reading everything and anything that they had to say. Our love for Nigella and her carefree way of cooking was our initial bond, but what made the community stick was that everyone seemed to fully comprehend the definition of food culture. Nigella, with her articulated manner of writing and speaking, shared with us not just the recipes she’s collected from books or ones she developed in hopes of recreating a dish from a high-end restaurant in her native London, but those of her grandmothers’ from her youth in the 1960s and 70s.

Everyone on that forum came from somewhere else and even though many were from England as Mrs. Lawson, their roots were from elsewhere and thus it added to the bounty of recipes and stories shared from all over the world. American, English, Italian and the foods of Spain are not ones often considered to be “ethnic” to us in the U.S., but to others in places far away, they are. We all understood that was is normal to us is not to another and that the foods shared within our homes with our families and the traditions inherent to that home are as much a culture as the one right outside our front door.

Long before the Nigella.com virtual forum doors shuttered, we had already established a few private forums which are still actively running today and as a result, many of us have never lost touch. I may not participate as much as I use to, but I still like to sneak in there once in a while to see how they’re doing.

Starting tomorrow, I will have a few of those forum members share their stories and maybe a few recipes here and there too. My reason for this is to help define my blog purpose, as well as establish my definition of food culture. It’s not always about a fancy recipe or an incredible restaurant experience, but celebrating the foods that make us tick, the ones that help flood our memories with great moments from our past and the ones that hang onto the last remaining threads of who we are in a world that is constantly changing. I hope you’ll enjoy this as much as me. So, tomorrow morning, be ready to grab a “cuppa” and get inspired.

*picture taken from The Guardian

Sweetness Follows at Sprinkles NYC

Years ago, before ever having been to Los Angeles, I remember reading an article about Paul Rudd during his post Clueless fame where in his own words he stated something along the lines of, “Health food and Los Angeles is almost a contradiction in terms – there have got to be more donut shops per capita than anywhere else in America.” I think the article was published in an issue of Rolling Stone magazine years before it stopped loosing its shine (in my eyes, that is). Anyway, the second I landed at LAX, for the first time in my life, I remembered Paul Rudd’s quote. Fast food joint after fast food joint followed by donut shops like Spudnuts was all I saw. And so the day I heard that Beverly Hills was endowed with the first ever “cupcakery,” I wasn’t at all surprised.

Sprinkles Cupcakes opened on South Santa Monica Boulevard in 2005 to an ever happy crowd. Personally, I found this genius as I’ve always loved cake, but enjoying cake meant purchasing a whole cake and the idea of so much of the sweet stuff quickly turned the whole thing from joyful to dreadful as my imaginary pants got tighter at the thought (not that I’m so fit now, ha!). Apart from Hostess orange cupcakes  and this one time when my aunt Cynthia bought my cousin Trey and I some Cookie Monster shaped cupcakes, cupcakes had never been a part of my life until now.

Although I’ve been to the Sprinkles in Beverly Hills, I was so incredibly happy when I heard of their New York City arrival. This city is filled with many cupcake bakeries, some good, some great, some horrifically awful, but I didn’t care – I just wanted Sprinkles. However, its took me a while to go to their Lexington Avenue shop. Recently I decided that I did need to get healthy, but not on a diet or any other fad, just in a realistic way that will take me a while, but hopefully will stay with me for even longer. Anyway, the second I went I was happy. I do find them to be a tad too sweet and I was disappointed in the fact that lemon coconut was not only topped with sweetened desiccated coconut, but was infused with cheap lemon extract. Even so, I’m just glad that they are made well in terms of technique. The frosting can be cloying, but the moist cake makes it worthy my while. Thankfully, the shop is far enough away from me that I can write about them, but gain no desire to go on an hour train ride to reach them.

Sprinkles Cupcakes

Cementing Memories with Food and Culture

Aya and I, Santurce, Puerto Rico circa 1983

The other day my mother accused me of being a nostalgic person. She’s right. But the why is an answer I don’t have. At times I think it’s because I was always on the go and I always longed for what I just left while I dreamed of what would happen next and thus my thoughts became a sort of fort where my mind could hide to. The other part makes me think it was my Aya who I feel molded me into being the one sibling who would make sure to keep our life treasures close and share stories of our family to my future nieces, nephews, children and hopefully grandchildren like she did for us. She never read me bedtime stories during the times that I would stay downstairs while my parents had gone out for the night. She would just tell me the memories of her childhood and I now regret getting lost in how I imagined it all to look like. For a while I thought her life was led in black and white until I realized that was just the nature of old silver film and not of life. It took me a while to realize that life is full of color and flavor. I don’t have many pictures of her and I in the kitchen; in fact, I don’t think I have any at all. It’s a shame, because the root of my love for the kitchen and my ever growing desire to start a family comes from her. She was a Spanish woman, whose English was at an elementary level when she went to study Chemistry at Marymount College in Kansas in the 1940s when few women went onto achieve higher education. A feat onto itself, she like I, was pushed to become something more than a stay-at-home mom. But that is what she became and I’m glad as she is one of my greatest examples just like my maternal grandmother (a Pharmacist) is a perfect example of how a woman can become what she wants to be if you are to work hard and fight through.

Enjoying Ribs, Laytonsville, Maryland Early 1990s

Although to this day I still feel like I’m walking the tight rope towards adulthood and it’s only recently that I’ve started to discover my post college graduation purpose. I remember seeing my name on the list of the year’s graduates and thinking, “now what?” instead of feeling elated at finally closing that chapter. And speaking of chapters, this week marks 10 years since I graduated high school and it’s only now that I feel like a woman or at least that I coming close to becoming one.

Meanwhile, on my way to work I can never keep myself from staring out of the subway window while it goes over the Manhattan Bridge. My mind races as fast as the speeding view out of the dirty and scratched train windows. I often stare out  while children play and babble and I start to wonder if in years to come they will remember this day. If they’ll remember me starting out the window in the background just like I do of some people in my memories. But that could just be because I’m weird, overly sensitive and emotional. However, the sounding reason to why I hope for them to keep memories is because I feel it’s a huge part of who we become and how we face the world in the day-to-day. But just as memories are to us as people, sauces are an important building block in the development of our meals. I do realize that’s a strange switch of subjects but, I do believe that the underlining flavors of one’s cuisine, in its essence, is a fundamental building block to culture whether within our own home or the country we live in.

*No need to watch the whole video, I just think it adds visual movement

The flavor base for the culture that I am most attached to are those that make up a Puerto Rican sofrito. The Italians have their sauces as do the French and Indians, Koreans and I could go on and on, but for me it is sofrito. Not to be confused with the Italian version of a French mirepoix,  it is base flavor for almost every dish that I grew up with. From rice and beans, arroz con pollo, to patitas de cerdo con garbanzos, sofrito is the principal flavor binder that defines Dominican, Cuban and Puerto Rican food. Below I am providing you with a simple recipe that can be used as a Technicolor flavor booster to any dish at all even if not Latin American. I highly recommend it!

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Sofrito
For better shelf life, freeze your sofrito in an ice-cube tray and use one cube for a small meal that would feed 2 to 4 or 2 to three for a meal for around 6 to 8 people.
1 Large green bell pepper, deseeded and chopped
1 Small head of garlic or half a large one
1 Large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 bunch cilantro, clean and rinsed
¼ Cup canola or olive oil
Large bunch of recao* or substitute with another bunch of cilantro
½ lbs. Aji dulce peppers

1) In a blender, combine all the ingredients until they are all combined and roughly chopped; adding water to help combine them, but only if necessary.
 
2) Pour into ice cube trays and freeze before transferring the frozen sofrito into either an air-tight container or Ziploc bag.

 
*Recao, also known as culantro, grows wild in the Caribbean and has a stronger flavor than domestic cilantro. Mostly used in Caribbean cooking and can be easily be found in various Bodegas all across New York City.