My (Accidentally Cool) NYC Foodie Tour

 Warning: Lots of fabulous food photos and details of my Foodie trip to NYC. Proceed at your own risk.

My plan was to arrive in New York, get to my hotel and maybe explore a little bit of the Tribeca area where I was staying before my Cooking Pastelitos for 100 gig on Sunday. I was traveling alone, which doesn't bother me. It was just the getting-from-one-place-to-another that I had to figure out.

The best direct flight was into Newark (which didn't look that far from my hotel on the map), but then that left me having to find my way into the city from New Jersey.

I put the word out on Facebook, hoping that maybe some of my local New York FB friends would tell me the best way to navigate their world.

NY moment
Here I am in Tribeca having a quintessential New York Minute.

Enter my amazing and generous MBFCF readers...

Arriving in the City

"We would love to meet you and pick you up from the airport."

So it was that I arrived in Newark and was greeted by sweet Christy, her husband Koe, and their beautiful daughter, Sunny. I got to spend the first leg of my trip chatting with these lovely people and bonding over our Cuban similarities in spite of living on opposite coasts.

Christy in car
The ride from Newark to Soho.

Our route took us through the famous Holland Tunnel, which apparently is 10 times more crowded at any other time, but that's not important right now.

Holland tunnel

Christy & me

We arrived at the hotel where the Rodriguez's dropped off a very tired and very, very grateful Marta. (Also, isn't that the über-cutest child you've ever, ever seen?)

The NY Foodie Tour

I'd just arrived in New York City and frankly, I was hungry. I know enough about New York that answering the "where to eat?" question was not a simple thing, unless, of course, I was willing to get corner-store pizza (I was definitely not willing). New York has every kind of food in every kind of neighborhood, some more accessible than others.

Enter MBFCF readers Mario and Michele. He is Cuban and knows how much I love Cuban food, but I also mentioned that I'd be having Cuban food all day at CCC of NY event.

"We'll pick you up and we have a great plan for the evening to make sure you get to enjoy the best NYC food experience possible."

Obviously, I was in a beggars-can't-be-choosy position here. Also, I had seen enough of their photos on Instagram to know I was in good culinary hands. Plus, they totally understood that I was all about documenting the magic at all times which, gratefully, Mario subscribes to also. So I didn't feel too weird about taking pictures of my food and uploading them to my Instagram account.

Documenting the magic

(Parenthetically, if you're not following my adventures on Instagram, you totally should. I'm Smrtqbn.)

Mario & cam

NYC Foodie Tour Stop #1: Nom Wah Tea Parlor. Chinatown.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor • 13 Doyers Street, New York, NY 10013(212) 962-6047

The oldest Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. It opened in 1920. Click here for a fascinating history of Nom Wah.

Nom wah

It was just around the corner down a narrow and slightly scary old New York Chinatown street, just sitting there awesomely in all its slightly dive-y glory.

Nom wah dim sum

We started at Nom Wah with appetizers, or Dim Sum in Chinese, consisting of a variety of egg rolls, dumplings and buns. I'd never had, but fell totally in love with the Steamed Shrimp Sui Mai (top left with the green pea in the center), Roast Pork Buns (bottom left) and fried Sesame Balls.

Chinese appetizers

Let me be perfectly clear (lest it appears by the photographic documentation that we had completely thrown caution to the wind and were decadently indulging our inner gluttons): We didn't eat every, single thing. We mostly just sampled so that we got a taste of everything, and also so we could have room to enjoy the rest of the food on the tour. The night, after all, was young.

NYC Foodie Tour Stop #2: Katz's Delicatessen. Lower East Side.

Katz's Delicatessen • 205 E Houston St.,  New York, NY 10002 • (212) 254-2246

The central highlight of the New York Food Experience - good, old-fashioned, New York deli food.

Katz's deli

Katz is where the infamous "I'll have what she's having" scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed.

When harry met sally

Also, they give you an interesting ticket with numbers that are part of some kind of elaborate deli code when you first arrive. And heaven help you if you lose this Very Important Ticket. There's a $50 fine for losing it. Don't ask me why. The ticket is then turned in when you go to pay. If you have the actual back story as to why this is a thing, please share.

Katz ticket

So, what to order? Everything on the menu looked so tempting.

We started off with a plate of Pickled Things. Sweet, salty, and oh-so-lip-puckery. I'd never tasted pickled green tomatoes. (I guess it's an acquired taste.)

Katz pickles & tomatoes

Then we ordered Katz's Deli Seltzer and Dr. Brown's Celery Soda. (Because regular soda is for sissys.)

Katz seltzer

For the main meal, we decided that the hand-cut (!) pastrami on rye was mandatory, or better yet, real kosher hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut. Or both!

Katz hot dogs

Again, let me reiterate that we split all of this deliciousness. (We were hungry. We did not have a death wish.) And although the hand-cut pastrami was fantastic, I could barely finish my 4th of the sandwich. (Plus there was one more food stop after this and we had to pace ourselves.)

This particular sauerkraut was wonderful. It had just enough tang to add lots of flavor but not overpower the hot dog. Being a novice at this, I don't know if all sauerkraut is the same everywhere. I've never really enjoyed it before this, so I'm guessing Katz's features the Cadillac of All Sauerkraut.

I just have to interject here that Michele, who was driving (in New York, people!) was the Goddess of the Perfect Parking Job. She could not only find, but she managed to squeeze her mafia-sized car into any spot that any New York City street accidentally offered up. Minstrels should sing songs about her ability to maneuver a car in between two others the way she did all over the city. (You, Michele, are my hero.)

Brooklyn br

NYC Foodie Tour Stop #3: Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain. Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain • 513 Henry St.,  Brooklyn, NY 11231 • (718) 522-6260

Brooklyn bridge.jps

Home of the Famous Traditional Brooklyn Egg Cream. (Which, interestingly, has neither egg nor cream in it.)

Brooklyn farmacy

The Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain is a beautifully restored old-school 1920's soda fountain in the very gentrified Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Brooklyn farm b&w

The atmosphere was 1920's-soda-jerk cool. The service was wonderful. The egg cream truly delicious. (Milk, soda water, and some truly amazing chocolate that doesn't exist on my coast.) That's the egg cream in the next photo, on the right.)

We also stumbled upon something called a Mr. Potato Head on the menu which involved vanilla ice cream, real peanut butter, caramel sauce and potato chips. Did you catch that? Potato chips! And caramel sauce! Over ice cream! (I guess you just had to be there...)

Potato Head

Okay, so I had a taste and I didn't love it. But then I don't particularly love peanut butter. And I'm not a huge fan of ice cream, either. But I really loved the idea of it. Ice cream and potato chips - together at last! Genius.

This is where our tour ended for the night. I felt like I got a fantastic sampling of all the gastronomical wonders that New York City holds. Bonus: I got to spend a really fun evening with the greatest people you will ever meet.

My blog has allowed me to have some really amazing opportunities. At the top of the list of Reasons I Love Blogging would be: Spending time with the most generous and thoughtful people on the planet. That would be my Cuban Cubiches.

Thank you, Koe, Christy, Mario, and Michele. You are the reason I *heart* New York.

 Also, next time we will find that cronut. 

Coffee and Therapy

When Lucy was a freshman in high school, her drama class did a showcase of Broadway tune vignettes. In one of them (maybe it was Grease?) she was paired up with one of the boys to do a dance together in the finale.

The mother of the boy and I didn't know each other before then, but we sat together and pointed in a look-at-our-kids-aw-aren't-they-cute-dancing-together way.

Lucy & josh
Lucy and Josh looking appropriately awkward before the dancing. Also, she's probably going to kill me for posting this photo, but that's not important right now.

This boy's mom and I started nodding hello more often and talking after rehearsals. When summer came, the kids wanted to do a beach day, which is exactly what we did.

We all went down to Crystal Cove and while they frisbeed and body-surfed and sun bathed, us moms talked. And talked. And talked. And found that as different as we both were, we had so, so much in common. And never seemed to run out of things to say.

"Let's do this again next week."

So, we did. That was in the summer of 2008 and Jana (my blog-friend from The Summer House) and I have been meeting at least once a week since then. For Coffee and Therapy. Every week. For the past 5 years.

Josh has been away at college for a few years now. Lucy is working and going to school and is gone and busy most of the time.

But Jana and I are still meeting every week and having coffee. Or breakfast. Or sometimes lunch. But always therapy. The kind that comes from friends who are up to date on each other's lives from talking every week.

I like that. I love that with all the changes in my life there's a constant: coffee with my friend.

Of course, you know it's not about the coffee.

And it's not about where we go to have coffee (or breakfast or lunch). Although, can I just tell you that Crystal Cove is a fantastic place to have breakfast on a perfect California day. Seriously.

Crystal cove

It's the point of connection. I just felt so appreciative of my friend's input this week. I appreciate her understanding and how easy it is for us to be together. I wanted to write about that today because some weeks our Coffee and Therapy is what keeps me moving forward and ready to tackle the next thing in my life.

To be clear, I have lots of really great friends. Many of them live too many area codes away for me to connect with them in person regularly. Thank goodness for the Internet and email and smart phones and Twitter and Instagram and Facebook. I'm so grateful to be living in this technical era where I can follow their lives and we can send each other thinking-of-you messages with such ease.

But, Jana is my every-week-face-to-face-coffee-friend and truly, she has saved me thousands in therapy. And I'm so thankful.

Crystal cove 2

My prayer for you, my friends, is that you would find a Coffee and Therapy friend of your own.

Thanks, Jana. You're a gift to me.

I have something to tell my BFF (A Giveaway)

When I was in college in the 70's, I also worked at a movie theater.

I was the Day Cashier. Impressive, no? I would work my little day shift because my classes were at night. The Night Cashier did just the opposite. She came in as I was ready to leave for the day. We usually overlapped about half an hour.

Each day, we would talk for that brief period of time. She would share her day as I counted up the receipts from the afternoon matinees. At which point she would take over her Night Cashier duties.

I would look forward to our afternoons in the Cashier's Booth, sharing our days and lives. And our friendship grew.

That was over 35 years ago.

Here's my friend, Pam and me, circa 1977:

Marta darby & pam

Since then, we have shared much, much life. As Pam likes to say, "I've known you longer than I haven't."

Here we are at Disneyland. Our favorite place to meet.


To this day we are constantly sharing. Not just the big stuff, like births and deaths, but the little things, like what we're having for dinner or what color nail polish we're wearing, or a TV show she thinks I might enjoy. (Thanks for turning me on to PSYCH!)

We text pretty much every day. We send each other little this-reminded-me-of-you surprises in the mail. Sometimes we just send cards.

Just this last week, she sent me a postcard from her city town(?) of Hanford (which I always mock as not being a real place, but that's not important right now).

Hanford ca

When I was at Blissdom in Nashville a few weeks ago, the kind folks at Hallmark sponsored a booth where you could send cards to anyone you wanted to on their dime. Is there anyone, they asked, that is special to you? If so, tell them.

My first thought was my BFF, Pam. She is currently struggling with MS and I thought a card would cheer her.

I know she knows I love and appreciate her. But I think it's important to say it often.

Then they asked, "Would you like to make a video, too?" (You can guess how I responded to that question.)


The generous folks at Hallmark have offered to partner with MBFCF to offer the following giveaway:

A ten pack of beautiful Hallmark Greeting Cards!


Hallmark logo

I love the idea of having a greeting card ready to send when the mood strikes. (I can feel myself racking up "cool" points already.)

1) To enter this drawing, please leave a comment on this post and answer  the following question:

    • Who is special to you and what would you tell them?

To enter this drawing, please leave your comment on this post and I'll choose a winner on Friday, March 23rd, 2011 at 8 PST.

I know you all have someone who is special to you. Please, don't wait. Tell them.


The Biggest Insult

My kids are generally pretty nice to each other. Of course, there are the occasional sibling fights that crop up when someone's in a foul mood or has had a bad day and chooses to take it out on those closest to them.

For the most part, they get along great and are friends. The exception being that the older ones would take advantage of the gulibility of the younger ones and taunt them whenever they had the chance. They're still doing this (but that's not important right now).

This usually happened at the dinner table and it went something like this:

  • One of the two younger ones, usually Jonathan, tells some sort of joke.
  • One of the other siblings: "That's not funny."

This became the biggest insult in our home... for years. "That's not funny," or even worse, "You're not funny."

The highest praise in our family is to get a laugh. So then, the highest goal (especially at dinner time) became to make the other siblings think something was funny. Extra points if you could make them accidentally spit food or pass a liquid through their nose. (I know. Terrible mother. Shut up.)

Believe me, this can be a tough crowd.

Amy Adam Lucy Jon

Once the Biggest Insult was out there, the un-funny one, sometimes Lucy, but most of the time, Jonathan would kind of do an emotional retreat and come out swinging the next time.

This scene repeated itself over and over on through the years and on many occasions. But, as Nietzsche once famously stated, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." This has been proven true in our quest for the dinner table laugh.

Fast forward to present day. My kids have been hanging with friends and playing Improvisation games for a long time now - it's what all the cool homeschool kids were doing, at least at our house. As an aside, I think each of them has an extremely well-developed sense of humor. I know I'm the mom here, but I promise, it's true.

A couple of years ago, Adam began teaching an Improv class at their high school. Lucy did it last year and this year, Jon collected a group of students to perform as a fundraiser for their drama program.

Jonathan Improv

I know he's my son and everything, but I can genuinely say this with no equivocation: HE. IS. FUNNY.

I guess all that dinner table abuse really paid off. ;-)

No "El Tri-co-tri" for you!

My mom calls.

"Van a ir al tri-co-tri?" She's asking if the kids are going out and Trick or Treating.

El Tri-co-tri. You have to say it phonetically, TREE-COH-TREE. It's what Trick or Treat sounds like with a Cuban accent. The "El" is just to make it grammatically correct. 

El Tri-co-tri. Noun. (Or verb?) The act of dressing up and begging for candy from your neighbors. (Must be a verb.)

No, I sigh. I think they're too old for El Tri-co-tri.

But I love the decorations and I love a good party. And one of them suggested a Nightmare Before Christmas Theme and then it kind of took on a life of its own.

I was in charge of food and decorations, because that's what I do best, but that's not important right now.

I decided to do it all in Tim-Burtony-inspired black and white.

I created the Nightmare Before Christmas silouettes as Photoshop Brushes and pasted them onto paper plates. I think they look very cool if you don't get too close.

Halloween subway sign

I went to a local thrift store and grabbed some black picture frames which made me happy because I was feeling lazier than usual and didn't feel like painting them. (I know. Shut up.)

Then I made the Halloween Subway Art in Photoshop and just printed it out to fit the 8 x 10 frame.

Halloween subway sign closeup

And I messed with a photo of our black cat, Bastet. I really like the look in her eyes.

The cat bastet

I painted some pumpkins with black acrylic paint, because again, I was too lazy to carve them. (Don't judge me.)

Black pumpkin on stand

And voila! Insta-Halloween decorations! *takes bow* 

Black & white Halloween hutch

Here's Jonathan explaining what they decided to do instead of El Tri-co-tri.

It makes me happy to see them all dressed up and having fun.  

Sally and Jack Skellington:

Sally & Jack Skellington

Amy Kikita as a Golden Goddess. Here she is in her Divine Form:


The Mayor and the Corpse Bride:

Bri and Nathan

Edward Scissorhands (pretty awesome, no?):

Edward Scissorhands

Lock, Shock, and Barrel:

Lock Shock and Barrel

Victoria (the live bride from the Corpse Bride):


Here they all are in all their black and white glory:

The gang

So, a good time was had by all, and even if they didn't get to go do "El Tri-co-tri..."

They did get to enjoy some fabulous Cuban food. ;-)

Empty pot

Japi Jalouin! Have fun with El Tri-co-tri!


The Summer House

My friend, Jana blogs over at The Summer House. It's called the Summer House because she loves the simplicity of living in a summer beach rental-type atmosphere where everything is clean, decluttered, and ready for fun.

She lives out her philosophy of simple living beautifully. And I'm always impressed and inspired by her. 

Internets, meet Jana...


I, of course, am just the opposite. My house is messy and cluttery in an artistic-A.D.D.-hyper-collector sort of way.

In spite of those differences, we are great friends and we manage to carve out a couple of hours for coffee at least once a week throughout the year and a once-a-week beach day through the summer. 

Meanwhile, back at the Summer House......

I started this post telling you about Jana, because we rent a beach house for a long, relaxing week every summer. Because of her inspiration, we have taken to calling it The Summer House. (Don't sue me, please, my friend. Thanks.) 

The house itself is bright and airy, with a big kitchen and lots of couches for lounging and a big patio that's perfect for cookouts and surfboards or in our case drying beach towels.


Our Summer House is only about an hour's drive south from us, in San Diego county. A mere 238 steps to the beach. With the best sand imaginable for sand castle building.


Or expressing ourselves artistically. This is Art.... ;-)


Even though the house is pretty roomy, and we have space for lots of people to hang out, we don't have as many comfortable sleeping surfaces. So we invited friends to come and be with us and just scheduled their visits on different days.


It worked out quite nicely for the first few days, with friends popping in for a morning or afternoon.


And the sun cooperated on some days, but not on others.

With stacie

Still it was relaxing and fun to just “be” with whoever was available for the day.


Sand people

I loved the quiet moments in between visitors when I could just sit and read and watch my kids playing in the sand. (Much like I did when they were little. Go figure.)


The ocean was soothing and oh, so healing. And we all were so in need of a rest and the respite that comes from serious playing.


Or just doing nothing. We did a lot of nothing. As often as possible.


Some of our young friends came to celebrate Lucy's 18th birthday, which meant there were more mouths to feed.

For breakfast:



Beach lunch

And dinner:


And I appreciate that all of her and Jon's friends are fun and easy to be with.


And are always ready to cooperate with me when I have a camera in my hand, which is most of the time, but that's not important right now. ("Quick, put on these disguises!")


Our time spent in the Summer House also reminds me of my childhood summers in Cuba, which were spent in Varadero, always with a houseful of friends and family. We would get to the beach as early as possible and put off eating because of the 3-Hour Rule (that's me on the right with the mop of uber-curly hair standing behind my trusty Duck Life-saver).

Varadero 1960085

I hope my kids have the same happy memories that I do of the Limited Communal Summer Living Experience (LCSLE?).

It pleases me to think that they will indeed.


P.S. Thanks, Jana, for the Summer House inspiration. =D 

This Girl

I fell in love with this girl the moment I first laid eyes on her. It was August 11, 1993.

Today is the 18th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Love Affair.

Lucy face

Her good friends, Brandon and David made the following film in her honor, with a little help from her brother, Jonathan and a few willing strangers. 

Get some popcorn.

And let the Birthday Games begin.




Lucy Message












Mailyn cafe

Steph & hilary





 Thanks to all of you who participated in all the cyber-fun. Lucy totally appreciated your presence at her Virtual Birthday Party. =D


Famous Last Bites: A Cautionary Tale

Marta here. It's summer and the Orange County Fair is in full swing here in our little corner of the world. My Lucy went with her friends, her camera, and her appetite. What follows is her account of the crap unfortunate food choices available to her.

CAUTION: Not for the squeamish.

- - -

    I’ve tasted regret. And it’s covered in powdered sugar.

    Hello. My name is Lucy. And this is my story.

    After passing through the ticket booth and tripping into the noisy, musical, aromatic world that is the OC Fair, good judgement snuggles onto the warm back burner of my brain.

OC Fair
    The options are overwhelming. The proposals are intriguing. The smells are bewitching.

    I’m speaking, of course, of the food. The battered, sugar-coated, chocolate-covered, chocolate-filled, crunchy, greasy, untidy, confusing food. Forget the cotton candy and the snow cones! The grossest, most unappetizing crap delicacies become the very thing my life was missing. Until this moment.

    Quite frankly, I’d like to know at what point in the evolution of Fair Cuisine did the word “deep-fried” become the saving grace of… everything. Twinkies. Oreos. Brownies. Klondike bars. Avocados. Frogs legs.


    Befuddlement is a good word. My friends and I stood in front of the billboards, blinking slowly and reading off the options. We soon accepted that the question "...but why?" would never be answered.

    To make sense of the billboards, I tried to categorize. The Favorites and The Classics fit in nicely with The Must-Haves (ice cream cones, funnel cakes, giant turkey legs… you know, healthy stuff.) while The Curiosities teetered on the edge of I-Would-Never-Eat-This-Anywhere-Else and I-Just-Don’t-Care-Anymore.

    Before they could say “You’ve got something on your lip,” I’ve just bought ten minutes of quality time with a deep-fried Snickers bar.


Deep-Fried Snickers

    You see, this is a place where bacon takes a magical journey and ends up frozen, covered in chocolate, and tossed into a little white box. With a side of deep-fried butter (which is topped with generous portions of whipped cream), they had the nerve to call it the “Coronary Combo.”
    And I ate it. With some help.

Deep-Fried Butter

    Real friends will eat the rest of the crap food that your own heart can't handle.

    We traipsed and we took pictures and I tried to “walk it off.” Then someone suggested ice cream. Which turned into a frozen banana covered in chocolate and peanuts. A subtle transformation, really. Some people just never know when to quit (ahem).

Frozen Banana

    A long day made even longer by good company, good memories,“good” food... and then we saw it.

Donut Chicken Sandwich

    Have you ever found yourself staring at something, trying to understand what you’re witnessing... but your brain refuses to translate the information into something reasonable?

    Yeah, me neither.

- - -

Cooking With the Troops or Meet Team Cubanaso

I have spent the last three days thinking about what I want to say about our experience in San Antonio and Cooking With the Troops.

My family has talked and talked and rehashed almost every detail of our weekend, multiple times. And I'm still at a loss for words to describe all that we experienced. I'm just going to post lots of photos and try to give you a feel for what we experienced.

When I first received the invitation to join Cooking With the Troops in Texas in July, I didn't hesitate before I agreed. I can think of no higher honor than doing what I do best to say thank you to those who have sacrificed everything for my personal freedom.

I don't have photos of the troops we served because so many of those that we met over the weekend gave up their limbs and a normal life so we could continue to enjoy the freedoms that we do. Many were waiting for prosthetics. The Warrior and Family Support Center is a beautiful home-like healing facility with an air conditioned kitchen (Thank you, God!). I was grateful that we could be there to do this one act of charity for these, our best and bravest.

They are absolutely heroes and it was our great pleasure to serve them. What an honor!

But let me tell you about the Amazing Volunteers (or Team Cubanaso):


The first thing I want you to know about these people, (including my own family) is that when asked if they were interested in doing this, (San Antonio, Texas in July, people!) not one of them hesitated. "Of course. What can I do?" And that was the attitude that carried through the entire weekend.

The guys from Dos Cubanos Pig Roasts (Texas, you are sooo lucky!) brought their expertise, four pigs, and their families. (Yay! More Cubans!) I think that might just have to be a separate post altogether. (Go "like" them on Facebook right now, please.)


Pig Roasting is their specialty, but Joey Lay and Jorge Carmona were able and willing to help in the kitchen as well. (Yes, that's Jonathan working on his professional photo-bombing skills, but that's not important right now.)

Dos cubanos

Val from Babalú was there knee deep in Cajas Chinas and pig fixins.

Val & box

Because this was a service to the military, they named him Point Man on the Pigs. He proved more than capable in his role (thank you, Val and Caja China people)! They started preparing the coals at 5 am.


By 9:00 am, it was time for the Pig Flip.

Pig flip


The pigs were done by 10:30. And the aroma went out in a cartoon-like-smoke-with-a-beckoning-hand and by 11:00 the guys were gathering around to get their first taste of the lechón asado, Cuban-style.


Once the pigs were done, Val came in to help Adam and Jon cut (more!) onions & garlic for the mojo for the yuca.

Sous chefs

Our menu? A typical Nochebuena feast:

110715 Cuban Lunch by Cooking with the Troops

We spent all of Thursday and most of Friday morning prepping for our Friday lunch. Which meant cutting pounds and pounds of onion, garlic, and peppers for the Sofrito Que Se Le Perdio a Santa Barbara (as my mom would say).


We had 3 vats (VATS!) of Black Beans that turned out delicious thanks to the hard work by Val and Amy Kikita and the generosity of Conchita Foods. At this point, the aroma from the sofrito, the beans and the pigs had people wandering hungrily into the kitchen, which was great.

Val & amy

There was a lot of fun and camaraderie happening in the kitchen, along with a lot of hard work. (We Cubans would call it "relajo." =D)

The Kitchen

Chef Ellen Adams of Red Hot Dish was responsible for dinner that night (couscous!) and Heather Solos of Home-Ec 101 was everywhere you wanted her to be. Both of these amazing women were so willing to lend a helping hand, and always with a smile. (When I grow up, they are who I want to be.)

Ellen & heather

Here's Jonathan helping with Ellen's fabulous couscous.


My family fell in love with these guys (yes, even you, Mike Russo!) and I'm pretty sure the feeling was mutual.


I can't stress enough how every one of these volunteers pitched in wherever they were needed. We worked hard and long and shoulder to shoulder. And we bonded. We bonded in that gosh-that-was-exhausting-work-and-more-fun-than-it-should-be way. Every single person had that "What can I do?" attitude.

Val & e

Let me just take a moment to talk about my kids.

Thing one: I was so happy they were all able to go on this trip. And I had all four of them with me all weekend - win!

Thing two: They all surprised and amazed me with how willing they were to step up and do whatever was required. What began as helping-mom-do-her-thing became a labor of love for them individually. I loved that they took ownership of the preparations themselves.


Thing three: No way would I have been able to prepare my share of the food without my family. I am completely at a loss. They went way above and beyond any expectations I had and I'm completely grateful and oh, so proud of them all.

Mbfcf & pastelitos

Let me introduce you to Jorge, who managed the beautiful Warriors & Family Support Center at Fort Sam Houston. He is Puerto Rican and provided us with our music while we worked (and managed to locate some espresso for us Cubans). In fact, it was a little emotional prepping all this Cuban food with support from Celia, Beny, and Willy. ;-) Thank you, Jorge! (He was still gushing about the amazing food we provided as we were saying our goodbyes.)


I was quite proud that I managed (with lots of help) to prepare 300 of my famous Homemade Pastelitos de Guayaba.


Although the volume was obviously much, much greater than anything I ever make, I felt like I was feeding my own family. I know it sounds corny, but with every dish we felt that same way. Like we were feeding family. (Maybe that's why everything tasted so great?)

But then there was the fiasco with the rice, because really, could everything go perfectly smoothly when you're making lunch for these many people?


I confess that I had no clue how to make rice for 250 people (300 was the final count.). So Adam and I winged it and we got some rice that was cooked on top but hard on the bottom. We also managed to burn some. At 10:30, with the 12:00 deadline looming, the rice was a mess and I was close to having a breakdown.

Jorge Carmona's family to the rescue! They had done congris before at a pig roast event and had encountered the same problems. "Just take small batches, add water, and cook in the microwave." Without hesitation, they stepped up and did just that and rescued the rice. I don't think I could be more grateful. What's better than having a Cuban cook in the kitchen? LOTS of Cuban cooks in the kitchen. ;-)

Line with rice

Amazingly, we Cubans managed to get the food out and on the tables at 12:00 military time. This is quite a feat when you usually run on Cuban time. =D



The warriors and their families came through the line and even though the food was foreign for many of them, they ooh-ed and aah-ed and came back for seconds and dove right into the yuca con mojo and the plantains (Thanks, Goya Foods!) without a second thought.


I was most pleased when the guys with the Hispanic surnames came through. They recognized the music. They recognized the food. "Is that guava??" And they were grateful for this "little piece of home."

Pastelitos 2

Much gratitude to the CEO of Cooking With the Troops, Blake Powers who pulled us all together for this amazing experience and gave us the opportunity to serve. Thank you, Blake and We have all been forever changed by this experience.


And to Mr. Bob Miller, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer and All Around Classy Guy.


I thank you all for the privilege of serving side-by-side with you.

I don't have words to express the gratitude and admiration I feel for the volunteers, the warriors and their families. Thank you all for your service.

Let it be known that we Cubans are very proud Americans.

M & val

(cross-posted on Babalú blog)

More on this event also posted at Blackfive and Home-Ec 101.

Happy 40th Birthday, Versailles! (An homage and a giveaway.)

“I need a blurb from you about Versailles.”

This request came from my friend (the amazing Cuban chef and cookbook author) Ana Quincoces. She was working on a TOP SECRET project and thought I might have something to say about my favorite Cuban restaurant in Miami.

Me: “Tell me what you're doing, so I can put it in context.”

That's when she began to reveal that she was working on a.....(wait for it....) Versailles Cookbook! *insert heavenly choir here*

Me: “Seriously? What a cool project. I suppose I could give you a blurb. But if we're talking Versailles on Calle Ocho, I could do an entire homage without breaking a sweat, but that's not important right now.”


Versailles. It's usually the first place we visit when we arrive in Miami (Hello, Cuban food!) and the last place, too. (Pan con Bistec for the plane ride home.)

Versailles. The first item on our long list of Miami Rules.

Versailles. Of the iconic etched mirrors and the perfect cortadito.


Versailles. Always packed at any time of the night or day. Filled with the sounds of my people. Their loud and inimitable voices raised in conversation, argument, and laughter.

Versailles. The geographical epicenter of our exile.

Me: “I wrote a post about why I couldn't live in Miami and my lack of self-control when it comes to Cuban food in general and Versailles in particular.”

Me, quoting myself: “It's like the Cuban Mecca and I am a faithful pilgrim.”

The next thing I know, I'm being quoted in the Miami Herald in an article titled Versailles: 40 years serving food with a side of politics. (I know. Shut. UP.)

From the article:

“When no one knew who he was, Julio Iglesias used to come and sit here and eat,” Valls Sr. remembers.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush is still a regular, and “although I’m a Republican,” Valls Sr. notes, President Clinton has been here three times. Famous chefs like the Food Network’s Bobby Flay make Versailles a mandatory pitstop on visits to Miami.

“It’s like the Cuban Mecca and I am a faithful pilgrim,” says Californian Marta Darby, who writes the blog “My Big, Fat, Cuban Family.”

(emphasis mine)

I'd like to just point out right now that they mention me in the same section as the other famous people who have eaten there, but that's not important right now. ;-)

Ana: “I think we got your blurb.”

Then she went on to tell me that she's still working on the Versailles book and that they're having a big party at the Calle Ocho restaurant this week to celebrate and that they're hoping that....(wait for it....) Andy Garcia will write the forward.

  • Thing 1) Out-of-my-skin excited to be included in this wonderful project.
  • Thing 2) Andy Garcia and I might be published in the same book. (One degree closer, people.)
  • Thing 3) Versailles is 40 years old.

I think we need to celebrate, don't you? I wish the Versailles book existed already and I had that to give away, but it has not been published yet, but I do have the next best thing:

An autographed copy of Ana's iconic Cuban Cookbook: Sabor! A Passion for Cuban Cuisine. (Thank, Ana!)


Sabor autograph

Of course, I'm especially proud of having My Big, Fat, Cuban Family Torrejas featured in this beautiful cookbook, but that's not important right now, either.


(Page 204 - 205, por si las moscas....)  =D

So, to enter this comment drawing, answer the following question:

  • When you celebrate a special occasion, what's on the menu?

Remember that if you want to enter the drawing for the cookbook, you must leave a comment on this post and I'll choose a winner on Sunday, July 17th, 2011 at 5 pm Pacific.

Happy Birthday, Versailles!

Con muchisimo cariño,