Gracias, Babalú!

In considering what I might write to celebrate this auspicious occasion, the first word that came to mind was “Gracias.”  Thank you.

Back in 2005, I was looking for some Cuban art for my home, so I started with a Google search. The first link to come up in my search for “Cuba” and/or “Cuban” was Babalú Blog. I think the topic at hand was something or other about the Elián González affair and how he was being paraded as a trophy in Havana by fidel. The outrage was palpable in the story. “Wow,” I remember thinking, “finally someone who understands my point of view.” I kept reading.

But, of course, I didn’t stop with reading just one article. I was impressed with the depth and variety and the Cubaneo. What an amazing place I had found! It was indeed “An island on the net without a bearded dictator.”

I made it a point to visit every day. It wasn’t long before Babalú became my first stop for news along with my morning cafecito. It felt like home. Like talking over the backyard fence with my Cuban neighbor. There was always good “chisme” to be found here.

About a year later, I was inspired to write my own blog about my own Cuban family and how I keep my Cubanity (<–is that a word?) alive in our little bedroom community in Southern California. That’s how my own blog, My Big, Fat, Cuban Family was born. You could say it’s a child of Babalú. Yoani Sanchez of Generacíon Y calls Val the “Grandfather of Cuban Blogs.” I think that’s very appropriate.

I, personally, write about my  Cuban family, our customs, I cook Cuban food and share recipes. It’s the ying to Babalú’s yang. I still remember the day in December of 2006 when my blog was added to the Cubiches list. I was ridiculously proud and happy. (I still am, but that’s not important right now.) Gracias.

In March of 2007, I was honored to be added to the list of Babalú Contributors when I started sharing recipes. Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen was born. I give you this personal history because Babalú has become an integral part of my own life. I owe all my success to the Babalú family. Gracias.

The other names you see on the list to your right have become real friends. They are people that I’m proud to be connected with and whom I seriously cherish. We not only share this little corner of cyber-space, we all share that pain and longing of having lost our homeland. We share a passion and love for America, the land that gave us a home and welcomed us with open arms and taught us about being free. We share a burning desire to be the generation that lives to see freedom restored to Cuba. Gracias.

Congratulations to my brother, Val Prieto for being such a visionary. You knew we Cubans needed a place like Babalú and you had the courage to bring it to bear. Congratulations also to my friends/editors/writers/contributors/cubiches for having truly created “an island on the net without a bearded dictator.” Gracias.

Marta and Val. Cooking With the Troops. 2011.
Marta and Val. Cooking With the Troops. 2011.

A Decade of Babalú. The internet is a better place because this little island exists. Gracias.

Also, there should be cake!

If he were alive, Che would be celebrating this day

It grieves me when yet another store puts out what they deem trendy. It always amazes me that trendy involves the face of a mass-murdering psychopath. In the case of Che Guevarra, it’s always some hipster idea of revolution.

I imagine that had he lived, he would be celebrating the destruction of life and property and the lingering pain of those surreal images that happened on 9/11.

Urban Outfitters has not only dishonored the collective memory of all of the Cuban victim’s of Guevarra who were slaughtered mercilessly, now they are celebrating the desecration of the Cuban flag with his image. (I purposely chose to add the smallest possible image of this assassin.)

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It’s even on sale (!) for $9.99 at Urban Outfitters.

Please give them a call and give them a lesson from the School of Che Reeducation. The number for urban outfitters is 215-454-5500. The CEO is Tedford Marlow. The CEO of the Urban Group (Marlow’s boss) is Richard A. Hayne.

Let’s light up their phones today.

By the way, this is my favorite image of the coward Che Guevarra on the day he was captured and killed. Why do they never post this one on a tshirt, I wonder?

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Let’s talk croquetas.

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Every now and then I get invited to be a guest on someone’s radio show and talk about my life and about Cuban food. I never, ever say no, but that’s not important right now.

Tonight at 7 pm Pacific, I’ll be a guest on Silvio Canto Jr.’s radio show, along with the lovely and talented Sonia Martinez, another amazing Cuban cook who lives in Hawaii and knows everything there is to know about Cuban food. Go visit her wonderful blog, Sonia Tastes Hawaii. I’m honored to share air space with these two.

I’ve done Silvio’s show before and we can barely get through the first hour because we all get so excited talking about Cuban food.

Tonight’s show promises to be no different. I can hardly wait.

The first topic is…..*drum roll please*

Croquetas.

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If you’d like to call in to the show, the number is (646) 478-4933.

Again, that’s tonight,  Tuesday, September 4th. 7pm

I’m only about 5’4″ in person, but on the radio, I sound waaaay taller.

Call me. Let’s talk croquetas.

Cuando Sali de Cuba – Luis Felipe’s Story

Marta here. I started this series, Cuando Sali de Cuba, Stories of Courage and Hope on my own blog, My big, fat, Cuban family in order to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month: Cuban-Style. I asked my readers to send me their stories about how their families left Cuba and how they ended up here in the U.S.

As the stories began pouring in, I realized that this needed to be an ongoing series. The stories are still coming in. Some are written as tributes by descendants of Cuban refugees who were born here in the U.S. and some, like this one, written from the perspective of someone who lived and survived the first years of the revolution and helped others escape.

I asked my friend, Joey Lay, of the Dos Cubanos Pig Roasts to send me his story. He did one better. He sent me his father’s.

I’m honored to offer you Luis Felipe’s story. It is absolutely fascinating because of the position he held in the national bank system at the time of the revolution. It will in turn make you angry and break your heart.

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CUANDO SALI DE CUBA – 14 de Octubre 1960

WHEN I FLED CUBA – October 14th. 1960

Every Cuban that left their homeland in the aftermath of the communist takeover treason from the beginning of the 60’s decade through this date, half a century after, has a story to be told and a vivid and stressful one.

This is my story. I hope you share the sense of hope when I survived and the sense of mourning when somebody else you never knew did not make it.

The world needs to know.

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It is our great responsibility to speak on their behalf, as so many innocent people were swallowed by the horrors of cruel and despotic criminals that had no control of their appetite for power and civil compulsion. They have demonstrated this over five long decades and three generations immersed in tremendous devastation as they struggle for life and freedom, the two most precious gifts from God.

It was October 14th, 1960, at dawn, fifty years ago now, the telephone at my parents home rang very loud and clear at that early hour. It was still dark and it felt like the surroundings were matching the situation that all were experiencing in Cuba at the time.  My cousin was calling to advise me to leave right away.

I was already planning ahead of what was coming to protect my wife and 2 ½  year old baby daughter because it had been announced that the banking system was being taken over by the Communist Government. I was affiliated with the Bank that was in charge of  the Dollar Currency, known as divisas, donated by the people for a supposedly more democratic government that was to be put into place during the first year of the Revolution.

This, of course, never took place because Castro and his comrades deceived the people of Cuba making them believe that they were going to establish a just and democratic country with rights for all their citizens where peace and prosperity were going to flourish. History shows they had no intention of doing this. Instead they brought violence, terror, and misery. Desolation has prevailed for over half a century without the most needed rectification of direction to improve the conditions and liberty of  the people of Cuba.

The fact that I represented the bank employees as a delegate of the national banking syndicate, jeopardized my security and the control of my actions and movements because I refused to follow the orders and instructions of the newly formed revolutionary government.

This “new” government was increasingly influenced by the communist party and the atheist platform. Their plan was to attack the church and religious entities and take over the press and all communications media as well as the different sectors of the business world.

The situation in the country escalated at an alarming rate. The oppression was at full force and the threats were constant. They menaced by means of telephone calls and the sudden presence of armed people that looked more like gangsters than soldiers.

This was the contribution of the errantly named Cuban revolution. A revolution that did not exist because it was stolen from the people and given to the elite of international communism.  The Red Menace took over our island with absolute cruelty and disregard for the human condition and absolutely no sensitivity to their citizens. Private property was rapidly stolen and given to cement the absolute control of the state, and the state was Castro.

El Che Guevara and all the other abusers of power aligned with world elements of the Communist International Group, funded and supported by the Soviet Union and their enslaved satellites. Since I was considered a leader with a Christian philosophy and democratic principles and surrounded by people like me, I was a target for pressure and threats and next in line to either be sent to prison arbitrarily or shot to death like many others were on a daily basis at La Cabaña and other military fortresses.

The new regime had thousands arrested  and also sent to the death squadrons each morning at dawn, without due process of justice or a day in court  since the purpose was to eliminate people that loved freedom and because the justice system was eradicated when these hordes took the country by surprise. They took advantage of a corrupted and weak military dictatorship that was governing by force, too, and had displaced the constitutional government of an elected president and congress eight years before.

I had to leave Cuba that morning of October 14th, 1960 if I wanted to survive with my family in a country of freedom where I could be of help to my countrymen and to restore our civil life and patriotic values, as well as the religious profession of the people that were not respected by the usurpers. My choice was obvious but the mission almost impossible because of the scrutiny on me.

It was difficult to get out of the country and the permits were unattainable, but I had a plan, and, I put it into effect, carefully and with elaborate disguising.

It worked only because we had God’s protection to such a risky departure. All elements were against me. The banks were invaded by the government militarily with machine guns and all; just like an assault.

And the leader of the syndicate had already left to fight the revolutionary army from the Mountains of Escambray, in Central Cuba, just five days before.

I was the second in command and everybody was looking for me because I did not show up at the bank that day. They went to my house to get me, but I had already vanished. They went to my parents’ house searching for me, but I had already left with my father, my wife and baby daughter. We were on our way to the International Airport where there was a big event that particular day.

At first it seemed it would be much more dangerous to be heading to the airport with a military presence there, but instead it turned out to for my benefit. The confusion was what helped me escape.

I arrived at the airport while the armed groups were looking for me. I was the only bank associate that did not show up while the takeover, or so-called nationalization, of the commercial and private banks, in addition to all the retirement funds was happening.

There was a big confusion generated by the coming of the Minister of  Exterior Relations accompanied by the President of Ghana (pseudo-communist) from the United Nations. It happened to coincide with the time of my departure and called for a concentration of all the militias from different fields and sectors of the country, including the bank militias that were at the airport.

All of this perfectly coincided with the time I was there trying to board the airplane. The militia from the banking sector belonging to different institutions thought that I was there for the celebration and had no idea I was really there to escape from my persecutors.

After being stripped and thoroughly checked, we had to walk quite a long way on the tarmac in order to step up the ladder to climb into the aircraft. We were on hold for nearly 45 minutes while we could see the Foreign Minister’s aircraft with the President of Ghana (the African country).

Twice the armed soldiers boarded our plane and two men were removed, one at a time.  Our little baby girl was crying, trying to drink a bottle of milk in that terrible heat and the loud noise from the propellers.

Finally, the airplane took off.

Up into the air we went and the blue sky could be seen all around us coming from heaven into the horizon.

Everyone on the airplane, from the passengers to the crew were happily clapping and relieved that we had succeeded in our dangerous plan to escape communism and oppression after so much turmoil. The happiness reflected in the passengers faces was undeniable. There was singing and laughing, smiles and hugs. We all felt united in our euphoria and relief.

When I arrived with my wife and tiny daughter at the old Miami Airport, the Pan American Terminal on 36th Street was full of people waiting for one of the first groups coming from the chaotic island of Cuba. Once the Pearl of the Antilles and now immersed in tears, hate, guns and distress.

Of course, with empty pockets but a clean heart, we gave thanks to God for his enduring protection that saved our lives.

I called my family that could not come with me to let them know we had arrived safely.  I told my Father and my Mother that I was safe and that I would start helping others to escape the horrors of communism. Our Lord helped me not only to be a bridge between the Cubans and Americans in this country but also allowed me to be an instrument to help bring to freedom hundreds of families and nearly 5,000 people who were being persecuted in Cuba because of their religious beliefs or democratic ideals. Except my grandmother, who knew that she would never see me or the rest of the family again. She was in her 90’s when she died a few years later.

I’m sad to say, however, that 51 years after the day I left Cuba for the last time, the conditions there are much, much worse. We lost our homeland. And now three more generations of young people have been deprived of the right to live according to God’s plan for humanity.

The same oppressors that killed our friends and citizens just because they did not follow their ignominies continue to rule the country with a cruel and miserable tyranny. We knew many who served more than 20 years in jail, many of them dying in prison. The devastation has been horrendous in all spheres of society. Such a thing as this had not even been seen before colonial times.

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My wife, Miriam and I were married in Miami at Gesu Catholic Church the same day that the revolutionary forces entered in La Habana, January 3rd, 1959.

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Our oldest daughter, Myriam Cristina was born in Cuba, and five more children were born to us here in the U.S.A., Luis Felipe Jr., Dennis Albert, Joseph Edward, Rose Marie and  Robert Anthony.

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They are all married and we now have 12 Grandchildren. We live in peace and prosperity in the freedom offered to us here in the U.S.A.

~Luis Felipe Lay

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I’m so very grateful to Joey and his father for sharing this amazing story. Gracias, my friend. I’m proud to know you.

If you’re Cuban American, your family has a story to tell. Please allow me the privilege of sharing it. Even if you were born here in the U.S. and you want to pay tribute to those who bravely left Cuba for a better life here, please do. Send me an email with “Cuando Sali de Cuba” in the subject line. Also, please send some family photos. My email is mdarby(at)cox(dot)net.

It’s my honor to pay tribute to your courageous families. As Luis Felipe so eloquently put it:

The world needs to know.

(cross-posted at My big, fat, Cuban family)

Cuando Sali de Cuba – Jorge’s Story

Marta here: Welcome to my ongoing celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month: Cuban-Style with a series of stories about Cuban American families and how they ended up here in the U.S.:Cuando Sali de Cuba, stories of courage and hope.

Today I want to introduce you to my friend, Jorge Carmona.

He is one of the Cuban masterminds behind Dos Cubanos Pig Roasts (Texas, you are so darn lucky!) along with Joey Lay, who’s story I will also be sharing in the coming weeks. I had the privilege of meeting Jorge and his amazing family in San Antonio during the Cooking With the Troops event.

In his essay, he celebrates the hardships of being new immigrants to this country and also the fun of being Cuban in America. As far as I’m concerned, the Carmonas are just like family to me. Please enjoy.

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My story is not unlike the countless stories of Cubans who came to this amazing country in search of freedom and opportunity. Many Cuban families have a similar tale as is evident here. Anyone who knows me knows that I do not take for granted the struggles and sacrifices my family went through to provide a better life for all of us.

Before my parents left Cuba, my grandmother, Bertha, informed them she would be coming along. She wanted to make sure I was well taken care of and she wanted to be there for her daughter and son in law. Unfortunately, my father’s parents would not leave. As much as my father tried to convince them they just couldn’t leave Cuba. I imagine they all felt it would be temporary and that eventually we would all return.  Heck, I expect many Cubans felt the same. My father would say it all the time “Once the Castro’s are gone, we would return.”

Mom & grandma

My family arrived in Miami in 1970. “Una finca.” A farm, as my parents called it. So you know, if not for us Cubans, Miami would still be a “finca.”

My parents had nothing but a small suitcase and some personal belongings. They had lots of ambition and drive though. Fortunately for us, some old friends who left Cuba before them took us in until we got settled. They also provided my parents with much advice and support. As my parents would say, “Los Oliveras are a gift from heaven”.

After a few years in Miami, and coming to the realization that no jobs were available, my parents made a decision to pack their bags again and move north to Chicago, Illinois. Why Chicago, you ask? Well as my parents put it, that’s where the jobs were and they would be forced to assimilate into this new world.

When we arrived in Chicago, A Cuban Pastor, Roberto Millan learned of my parents and immediately helped us get settled. It seems that in those days if you were Cuban, other Cubans who went through the same were eager to help.

Chicago has some harsh winters and coming from a tropical island my parents had no clue what they were going to experience. They had been warned, yet they didn’t know. As with many immigrants, regardless, they worked their tails off. Both my mother and father worked in factories and worked at anything they could. My father, a barber in Cuba, saved enough to buy himself some barber equipment and he soon found a part time job as a barber. They saved everything they could with the ultimate goal of buying a house and a car. In less than three years in Chicago, through hard work, sweat, and determination they accomplished their goals.

Even though my parents worked all the time and saved money like it was going out of style, they always managed to provide us with anything we needed. We always had food on the table, provided by my grandmother.  We had a roof over our heads, nice clothes and we were able to do things that other Americans enjoyed.

I played little league baseball. We went on vacations. We had picnics at Santa’s Village.

Speaking of Santa, my parents learned of this amazing guy and had him bring me all sorts of gifts on Christmas. Luckily, Santa was around because as my father would always inform my sister and I, money did not grow on trees. This Santa guy brought me almost all the toys from the Sears catalog and it didn’t cost my dad a dime! The point is, we never felt like we were any different than other kids.

While my parents wanted to assimilate, they never forgot their roots. They would always tell us how proud they were of being in America and having all these amazing opportunities. But like many Cubans would tell you, they still did things, well…like Cubans.

You see my parents were like every other Cuban I know, they were loud, I mean why-you-yelling loud.

They partied. They moved their arms in rapid motions when talking and yes, they caused a scene almost everywhere we went.  Just imagine the look on the nurses and doctors faces when all these Cubans congregated in the hospital to celebrate the birth of my little sister, Carmensita. I guess a sign informing guests not to bring a cooler would have been appropriate.

Speaking of crazy, one of my favorite stories was when I was about 8 years old. Cubans love to roast pigs so on Thanksgiving, in addition to a Turkey we roasted a Pig. What could go wrong?

Well in November, Chicago is cold, real “coño que frio” cold. So some crazy liquored up Cubans roasting a pig was a recipe for some good times right? Roasting the pig outside was out of the question. So my father and his other Cuban friends had a brilliant idea. “ Let’s roast it “en el garaje” (the garage). Well you can imagine what happened next. The neighbors immediately called the firefighters and a few minutes’ later firefighters were on the scene. Let’s just say it took a miracle and lots of pleading and yelling when they arrived. Luckily one of the firefighters spoke Spanish and the pig was spared.

Pig roast mom

After several years in Chicago, the weather and the crime was starting to get to my parents, we had a nice house, yet our neighborhood was becoming infested with gangs. As my parents tell it, you could hear gunfire at night.

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Several of my parent’s friends had children who were recruited and became gang members so my family made another decision so I wouldn’t end up in that situation. They would return to Miami.

I was now 11 years old at the time and my sister was 6 so it was difficult for us to leave our friends, but we had no choice, really. So we moved back to Miami in 1978. Just like everything else they set out to do, my parents accomplished even more in Miami.

My mother went to school to be a stylist and my father worked on getting his barbers license. My father realized his dream of owning his own business, Carmona’s Barber Shop in the heart of Cuban territory, off Flagler and 38th Street. Soon after that my mother realized her dream and opened up her own business, Lily’s Beauty Salon in Pinecrest.

Amazing, they accomplished so much in this country – they did it with hard work, sweat, humility, and pride.  My sister and I are what we are today because of them. You see, my parents are my inspiration; they came to a new country, with nothing and became successful Americans, just like they had dreamed of back in 1970 when they left Cuba.

Jorge's Story

As with many Cubans they always spoke about the beauty of Cuba. They have watched Cuba go from a prosperous free country to one of oppression and despair. I know it hurt them to know that those who remained in Cuba were struggling while they were enjoying life.

My dream was to one-day return to Cuba with my parents and my family, visit my birthplace and see all the beauty they so vividly described to us over the years. Sadly, my dad recently passed away and will not be able to return, but rest assured, one day, if God allows, I will visit Cuba and I will remember all the wonderful stories he shared with us.

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God bless you, abuela, for being there for us, for taking care of us when mom and dad were working.

God bless you mommy for always loving Carmen and I unconditionally and teaching us to appreciate life.

Papi, I miss you so much, but I am grateful that I have you always in my heart. I am grateful that you taught me what being a man is about.

~Jorge A. Carmona

Editor’s Note: If you’re in Texas and want a one-of-a-kind authentic Cuban party experience, contact Dos Cubanos and they’ll show you how it’s done, Cuban-style.

To get your mouth watering and inspire you for the upcoming holidays, please “like”Dos Cubanos Pig Roasts on Facebook.

I’m collecting and sharing these “coming to America” stories, one-by-one, over on my personal blog, My big, fat, Cuban family. If you have a story to share, please send me an email to mdarby(at)cox(dot)net with “Cuando Sali de Cuba” in the subject line. I’d love to share your family’s story.

(Cross-posted on My Big, Fat, Cuban Family)

Cuando Sali de Cuba – Your Story

I live in Southern California and I’m constantly amazed at the number of people who have no idea why there are so many Cuban Americans here in the U.S.

I’ve concluded that they just don’t know our stories. And I know for a fact that if you’re of Cuban heritage and are not living on the island, you have a story about coming to America.

I often get asked by my local newspaper to share something for Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) about my “coming to America story.”

This year I’d like to do something a little different. I’d like to share your stories on my own blog, My big, fat, Cuban family. Or your parents’ story if you were very young. Or your grandparents’ story. You get what I mean….

Here’s an example: Cuando Sali de Cuba – Anna’s Story.

I was very encouraged when I saw Jay Alvarez act out his parents’ dramatic escape from Cuba in his one man show, “Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!” and I realized that we all have a story and too many people are ignorant about what actually happened to the Cuban people as a result of the revolution.

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So, I’m asking you to please share. Send me an email with your story and some photos (Under 600 words would be ideal). Send to mdarby at cox dot net. Please put Cuando Sali de Cuba in the subject line.

It’s time for the stories of our common, everyday courage to get told. Thank you.

Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!

You would think I’d be used to it by now because it happens everywhere I go. But I’m not. (Used to it, that is.)

Here’s how the scene usually plays out:

Me: “You’re from Cuba? So am I.”

Cuban Person I Just Met: “I’m from *insert town in Cuba* and I know your *mother, father, sibling, dog’s cat*”

Me: “Shut. Up.”

So a few weeks ago, my daughter Amy Kikita and I went to see Jay Alvarez in his amazing one-man show called, “Be careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!” at the Hollywood Fringe Theater of Note.

Amy & me theater of note

In this incredible one-man show, Jay reenacts the story of his family’s harrowing escape from Cuba by boat in 1964. He introduces each of the characters in his remarkable true family drama and makes you feel you know each one.

Be careful sharksThe show gets it’s name from the terrifying/hilarious moment when 4 1/2 year old Jay is throwing up over the side of the boat as his family is escaping Cuba and gets this wonderfully Cuban admonition from one of the adults in the boat. As he laughingly points out, “Who says this to a child?”

His gift is his ability to connect with the quintessential Cubaness of it all and to tell his story with both comedy and poignancy.

Jay very accurately took us through the history of Cuba from the late 50’s through the beginnings of the revolution and wove these historical facts into his family’s personal drama.

We laughed. We cried. We collectively held our breath. Our hearts broke. We sighed in relief. Jay has taken the Cuban gift for storytelling to a phenomenal level. This show is a MUST SEE.

We waited to meet him after the show and stood outside with other fellow show-goers to congratulate him. Obviously most of us were Cuban, and we commented to one another about how incredible the story was and how talented Jay is.

When he came out to greet us on the sidewalk outside the theater, we applauded once again. Did I mention that this show is a MUST SEE?

With jay

One sweet little lady stopped him immediately and began questioning him about his parents, which he mentions in the show: Humberto and Chiqui.

Sweet Cuban Lady: “I’m from Matanzas, too. Was Chiqui, your mother, also known as ‘Chiquitica?’ She was raised in my home.”

This revelation happened as the show had unfolded and she was checking to see if it was true. Sure enough. This smart actor’s mother had been raised in the Sweet Cuban Lady’s home in Matanzas. And here they were, 3,000 miles and 60+ years later connecting in a little theater in Hollywood. Shut. Up. That just doesn’t happen in real life.

She exchanged information with this talented actor and one of the younger gals with her was about to take a photo of her with Jay. It was too dark on the street, so Amy offered to take it with her flash and email to her. (Yay, Smart Phones!)

Jay & lady

So, in case you haven’t been paying attention, let me recap: This lady’s sister was best friends with this actor’s mother back in Cuban in the 50’s. Got that?

There’s more…

Amy finished taking the photo for them and asked for an email address to send it to. The younger gal in that group said, “Just send it to my mom. Here’s her email address.” And she starts rattling off letters as she spells her mom’s name while Amy dutifully punches these into her phone.

This is when I peek over Amy’s shoulder to read the email address on the phone, because somehow that name sounded familiar…..

Me: “Manduley? Is your family from Holguin?” (Town in Cuba.)

Her (with a surprised look on her face): “Yes!”

Me: “What’s your name?”

Her: “Margarita Manduley.”

Me: “Then Mario Manduley was your father?” (You see where this is going, don’t you?)

Me again: “Your grandmother and my grandmother…….were sisters.”

*collective gasp*

Internets, meet my long, lost cousin, Margarita Manduley. Our grandmothers were sisters. (Her father and my mother were first cousins, but that’s not important right now.) I know. Shut. UP!

Margarita

We took the party out to Studio City to an amazing tapas bar called Bokado, located at: 12345 Ventura Blvd., CA 91604, (shameless plug) which is conveniently owned by Margarita’s husband, Frank Leon and so celebrated our new-found family with fabulous tapas and toasted with mojitos.

Thanks, Jay Alvarez, for the gift of your phenomenal storytelling and for managing to reunite two families in one unforgettable evening.

Like I always say: It’s a small (Cuban) world after all. 😉

Lucky for us, Jay will be back in Los Angeles this week, July 28th, 29th, and 30th at the ArtWorks Theater at 8PM and July 31st at 2PM.

You can get tickets by clicking on this link.

DO. NOT. MISS. THIS. SHOW!

For performance information, follow Jay and “Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You!” on Facebook.

(previously posted on My big, fat, Cuban family)

Cooking With the Troops or Meet Team Cubanaso

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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):

Team Cubanaso. Cooking With the Troops
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.)

Dos Cubanos Pig Roasts

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.)

Joey Lay and Jorge Carmona

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

Valentin Prieto

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.

Caja China Pig Roasters

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

Caja China Pig Flip

Pig in Caja China

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.

Chicharron

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

Val, Adam, & Jon

Our menu? A typical Nochebuena feast:

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).

Sofrito

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.

Valentin Prieto & Amy Hohneker

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 Adams & Heather Solos

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

Jon and the couscous

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

Mike Russo, Jorge Carmona, Val Prieto, Joey Lay

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 Prieto, Eric Darby

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.

Adam Hohneker, Lucy Darby, Jonathan Darby

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.

My Big Fat Cuban Family

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.)

Jorge, Lucy Darby

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

Marta Darby, 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?

rice

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. 😉

Serving line

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

lechon, frijoles negros, plantains, yuca con mojo

Food line

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.

maduros

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 of Blackfive who pulled us all together for this amazing experience and gave us the opportunity to serve. Thank you, Blake and cwtt.org. We have all been forever changed by this experience.

Blake Powers

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

Bob Miller

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.

Marta Darby, Valentin Prieto

Coffee Talk – from Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen

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Making Cuban coffee is more art than science.

I think I learned how to make Cuban coffee when I was about 8 years old and able to maneuver in the kitchen without hurting anything. It wasn’t just a matter of making the coffee itself, there had to be a frothy topping to that café and just the right amount of sweetness. Of course, like anything else, some people can make it happen with apparently less effort than others. Hence the artistry.

My dad always smelled of a pleasant mix of Vitalis, puros, and Bustelo. If Cuban music is the soundtrack of my life, the aroma of freshly brewed espresso is the fragrance.

Obviously, you can use a fancy espresso machine to get your café made for you at the press of a button. Or if you’re in Miami, you are probably within walking distance of your afternoon coladito. We who are here in the exilio-del-exilio have to make our own.

I’m from the old espresso-maker-on-the-stovetop school of Cuban coffee making.

Red cup

Why?

Because of the ESPUMA.  That’s what we call the frothy stuff on top. (I would say “espumita,” but the stuff I’m talking about is much more powerful than the diminutive suggests.) Killer Espuma – I should trademark that! – is a matter of personal pride in our family. Today, my daughter, Amy Kikita, who is The Official Family Killer Espuma® Maker will share her secret for the Perfect Cuban Espresso with Killer Espuma®.  😉

(By the way, she doesn’t really talk like that, but that’s not important right now.)

In keeping with today’s theme of All Things Coffee, I am grateful for the generous folks at IMUSA® for providing today’s fabulous giveaway gifts.

Thing 1) An old-school (of course!) Aluminum Espresso CoffeeMaker in RED. (It’s the same as the beautiful red one in the video.) Along with a set of four RED espresso cups & saucers.

Red cups and red coffeemaker

Thing 2) A nine piece Stainless Steel Espresso Set. Beautiful, no?

Stainless steel coffee set

They also have a wonderful and varied line of espresso related items. Check that out right here.

So, for a chance to win one of the two featured prizes above, please click over to My Big, Fat, Cuban Family and leave a comment on this post over there. (I love capitalism! *sigh*)

Happy Monday!

(cross-posted at My big, fat, Cuban family)

Voices from Mariel

I’m often amazed at how little people here seem to know about the waves of Cuban immigrants refugees to this country.

The older folks remember that in the early 60’s there were some displaced Cuban children that needed homes. This they only know if one of the children ended up in their neighborhood. I’m referring, of course, to the Pedro Pan Flights, where 14,000 unaccompanied minors were sent to the U.S. by their terrified parents, hoping to save them from communism. They did. At great personal sacrifice. Read that story here.

But there are other stories. Some very dramatic, some that end tragically, some with happy endings. As I start thinking about it, I realize that just about every Cuban has a “Cuando Sali de Cuba” story to tell.

The beautiful dvd Voices from Mariel tells the stories of those that left Cuba on the Mariel Boat Lift in 1980. That exodus of those 125,000 Cubans made the world sit up, take notice and hold its collective breath.

By the way, just because someone came to the U.S. via Mariel doesn’t make them a felon. (If you believe that, you’ve watched Scarface a few too many times, but that’s not important right now!)

I have an amazing DVD to give away that tells that story. It’s called Voices from Mariel and it’s just beautiful and oh so honest.

To enter the drawing, please click over to My Big, Fat Cuban Family and leave a comment on the post titled Voices from Mariel – A Giveaway and tell me your coming to America story.

  • Start off with….Cuando sali de Cuba.… tell me about your travels and how you found things in this country.
  • If you send it by email and with photos, I’ll be happy to post it on my blog, with your permission, of course.
  • In fact, I think every Cuban should write down their story and share it.

Voices from Mariel

It’s a beautiful film. I promise you’ll enjoy it. We are all one people, we Cuban-Americans. No matter when we arrived here in the U.S.

I’ll pick a winner randomly on Saturday evening, May 21 at 6 pm Pacific.

Now, come on….Tell me your Coming to America story.

Happy 20 de Mayo!

Never Say Die

My daughter and I were privileged to be invited yesterday to a luncheon honoring recently released Cuban prisoner, Ariel Sigler Amaya and hosted by Asamblea de la Resistencia Cubana and commemorating the 8th anniversary of the Cuban Black Spring. Organized by former political prisoner, Fernando Marquet and our very own Ziva, it was a wonderful and memorable afternoon.

Ziva and myself greeting political prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya in Los Angeles
Ziva and myself greeting Ariel Sigler Amaya in Los Angeles

They showed the film “Todos Somos La Resistencia.” (“We Are All the Resistance.”) And we heard speakers from the Asamblea explain the goals they had for the organization. Mainly to build support and to unite the freedom fighters on the island with the Cuban exile community.

We were pleased to have been invited and knew we would be meeting Ariel Sigler Amaya at this luncheon. We had seen the dramatic photos of his arrival in the U.S. after 7 long years in Castro’s jails and of him taking his first steps last week.

Many of the Cuban exiles in attendance were former prisoners of conscience themselves, some having served 20 year sentences. There were many Plantados – the immovable ones – who have endured the harshest punishments in Castro’s gulags. There were Pedro Pans, who were sent to the U.S. as children during those first years of the revolution.

And there were those of us who just fall into the group of Cuban exiles and friends who care passionately about the cause of freedom on the island. This eclectic mix of patriots welcomed Ariel Sigler Amaya to Los Angeles.

On behalf of US Congressional Representative Buck McKeon of California, Luis Alvarado presented Ariel with a Congressional Certificate of Recognition for his courage and sacrifice on behalf of freedom and democracy.
On behalf of US Congressional Representative Buck McKeon of California, Luis Alvarado presented Ariel with a Congressional Certificate of Recognition for his courage and sacrifice on behalf of freedom and democracy.

Speaker after speaker, the main thought that was expressed was that we are all ONE community. The prisoners, the Cuban bloggers (not just on the island, but also in the U.S. and around the world), those trying to scratch out a living on the island and those of us who have made our lives outside of it, are still, when all is said and done, Cubans who are unabashed lovers of liberty.

It’s to our credit that even after all Castro has done to divide us geographically and ideologically, we “gusanos” are still in the game. We care. This small fact is helping to give traction to the growing group of dissidents on the island. Knowing there are Cubans all over the world who are standing with them gives them hope and courage. And because they now know we are standing with them, it encourages those who were once without hope, to stand as well.

Ariel Sigler Amaya said as much to me yesterday and as if to illustrate that point, he stood up to embrace us.

Ariel stands on his own
Ariel stands on his own

There was that moment of “It just doesn’t get any better than this.” That was when The Call came in.

Receiving a call from Dr. Biscet from Havana
Receiving a call from Dr. Biscet from Havana

On the other end of the line was Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet from Havana, newly released from prison himself, sending encouragement (!) to the group that was gathered. “The Castros are afraid of you. Of us,” he said over the cellphone speaker. “Keep the fight alive.”

The stunned group of Cubans then launched into the Cuban National Anthem. We sang proudly and loudly, knowing that our voices were being heard on the island. Overcome with emotion, I only captured the very end of the song on tape.

One last thing:
Ziva gave Ariel a ride back to his hotel and was playing Cuban music in her car. He asked if she had any “American rock and roll.” She found a local classic rock station which delighted him.

He quickly (and quite proudly) identified the band and the song. “Black Sabbath! Never Say Die!”

Ah, freedom! Never say die, indeed.

But Why is the Rum Gone? from Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen

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Sometimes my family sits around and has noisy, opinionated and pointless discussions. (Hello? Cubans!) In this case, we were discussing the wonders of plantains and engaging in the Eternal Cuban debate:

Maduros or Tostones?

It depends on the main dish you’re serving, of course. I mean, I love a good tostón with garlic sauce. (Who doesn’t?) But I tend to be partial to sweet plantains or maduros.

In the midst of this discussion, my mom threw a wrench into the works when she declared rather regally and with great finality: “Platanos en tentacion.” (Rougly translated: Plantains in temptation. I know. I said roughly.)

Of course, you don’t just throw out a random suggestion like this with a group of noisy and opinionated Cuban women who all have their own particular versions of how to cook things.

It was like throwing gas on a fire.

“If you don’t have enough rum, they’re not as good.”

“The rum makes takes away too much of the sweetness.”

The discussion went on and on and even though I had not made these before, I quickly determined that they would be most tasty with just the cinnamon-caramel-glaze and it seemed to me that the rum was a bit superfluous anyway. (See? Opinionated.)

So, my daughters and I started messing with maduros and came up with a rather to-die-for concoction and took those maduros to the Next Level. Seriously.

They turned out so amazing that I’m convinced you could travel through time after eating these.

What I could not completely determine, however, was whether these caramel-glazed plantains would be better served as a side dish or as a stand alone dessert? Maybe over ice cream?

Your thoughts?

Platanos en Tentacion

Platanos en Tentacíon

  • Goya frozen maduros* – cooked according to package directions
  • 6 oz. sweetened condensed milk
  • Ground cinnamon

*I decided the frozen maduros, which could be heated through first, worked well enough. Frying plantains would make them a little too heavy for this dish, but that’s not important right now.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place cooked plantains in a baking dish.
    maduros
  3. Pour sweetened condensed milk over them.maduros with condensed milk
  4. Sprinkle with cinnamon.sprinkle maduros with cinnamon
  5. Bake for 35 minutes.
  6. Serve hot with __________. (Your thoughts?)
Luza & the plantains
My mom, Luza, enjoying MY Platanos en Tentacíon.

Buen Provecho!

“But why is the rum gone?” ~ Captain Jack Sparrow

Japi Niulliar!

It’s December 31st and I’ll venture to guess that in just about every Cuban household the cry is going out, “Did you get the grapes?”

Because when the clock strikes twelve tonight and the ball drops in Times Square, Cuban families everywhere will begin the fabulous relajo that signals the end of the old year and the ringing in of the new.

Cuban New Year

Back to the grapes…

At midnight, we Cubans eat 12 grapes, one for each month of the past year.  If you’re really serious, you attempt to eat one with every stroke of the clock.

You must wash each grape down with a gulp of hard cider (sidra).

Earlier in the day, you would have mopped your floors and saved the dirty water. At midnight, you toss that old, dirty water out into the street. Out with the old! I think many people may even skip the mopping and just fill a bucket of water for this one. The point is to be tossing out the old year and any bad juju with it.

If you hope to be traveling in the new year, grab your suitcase and take it for a walk. This symbolizes that you will be going places. For the lazy among us, you can just put the suitcase outside. If you opt for the suitcase-outside-the-door, don’t blame me if the farthest you get to this year is North Hialeah.

If you go for the midnight walk with your suitcase, be sure to bring an egg and throw it over your right shoulder at the first intersection…..for good luck, of course. (?)

The question of prosperity is also answered in the busy midnight hilarity. You have a couple of options for this:

  1. Place money in your mailbox. Money attracts more money, so you should be getting more money, presumably from unexpected sources.
  2. Have someone give you 3 garbanzo beans to keep in your wallet all year. I personally have never tried this one. Most of my friends in the O.C. don’t carry garbanzos with them on New Year’s Eve, or really at any time of year.

Then there’s the matter of the underwear. I’m not sure if this applies to both men and women, but I’m just going to throw it out there. You would presumably wear red underwear for luck, yellow for prosperity, or black for passion. I suppose you could wear all three at once to cover all your bases. (<–That works on two levels.) 😉

Don’t forget to start soaking your lentils to make a big pot of lentil soup for New Year’s Day.

If I missed any more Cuban New Year Superstitions Traditions please feel free to add them here to the comments section of this post.

Yes, I’ll be wearing my lucky red underwear, but that’s not important right now. So, until next year, Prospero Año Nuevo!

The Brunch Bunch

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When it comes to Noche Buena, the menu doesn’t really vary at my house: Lechón asado, frijoles negros, arroz blanco, yuca con mojo, etc. You know the drill. (I’m sooo not complaining.)

Where I do get to play in the kitchen and flex my creative muscle, is for breakfast/brunch. Actually, I excel at this, but that’s not important right now.

On Christmas morning this is what will be coming out of my kitchen: Crepes. Not just any crepes, but Dulce de Leche Crepes, people. Last time I showed you how quick and easy it is to make dulce de leche in your crockpot. This is the next logical step.

crepe-31

[Note: I learned how to make these when I visited the Betty Crocker Kitchens in Minneapolis over the summer. Of course, I’m happy to share. After all, it’s Christmas, and I’m a giver. ;-)]

dulce-de-leche-crepes

Dulce de Leche Crepes

  • 1 cup original all-purpose baking mix (Bisquick!)
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups dulce de leche
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans (optional)
  • Powdered sugar, if desired
  1. In medium bowl, stir baking mix, milk and eggs with wire whisk or fork until blended.
  2. Heat 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. For each crepe, pour 2 tablespoons batter into skillet; rotate skillet until batter covers bottom. Cook until golden on bottom. Turn; cook other side until golden brown. Stack crepes as removed from skillet, placing waxed paper between each.
  3. In small microwavable bowl, microwave dulce de leche on High about 30 seconds or until thin enough to drizzle.
  4. Fold each crepe in half, then in half again. For each serving, top 2 crepes with 2 tablespoons dulce de leche; sprinkle with pecans and powdered sugar.

De aqui pa’l cielo!

W. Unplugged.

My husband, Eric and I had the wonderful opportunity to see and hear George W. Bush at the Saddleback Civil Forum last night. (We regularly attend Saddleback Church, but that’s not important right now.)

He was there, by his own admission, to “shamelessly peddle my book,” Decision Points.

Decision Points

What was wonderful about the entire evening was that the format was very casual and Pastor Rick asked him some personal questions about what it takes to be a successful leader. He came off as smart, articulate and passionate. Words that are not often used to describe George W. Bush.

He was completely comfortable in his own skin and it showed. He spoke of his father’s unconditional love for him and about his personal faith in God and how those things definitely affected his decision making during those 8 years of crisis and wartime when he was in the White House. He spoke candidly about how his alcohol abuse was destroying his life. He referred to himself as a sinner saved by grace. I loved that.

The evening was tarnished by a few Code Pinko types who attempted to disrupt the atmosphere by shouting at him from the audience. W deadpanned to the crowd about how these people needed to get a sense of humor. The shouting was drowned out by thunderous cheers and the disruptive attendees were quickly escorted out of the building.

There was lots of joking and fist-bumping between Pastor Rick and W. And there was lots of sustained applause and a couple of standing ovations. Say what you will about him, but there’s no denying the man is a true patriot.

warren & bush

I loved his self-deprecating wit and that he began the evening by joking about people’s reaction to the book, saying it has been “a slight shock.… A lot of people didn’t think I could read, much less write.”

He spoke of his wonderful parents. Of the uncertainty of leading this nation in grief after 9/11. Leading being the operative word.

My first takeaway, was that here was a man who was a True Leader. I didn’t always agree with his decisions, but I never doubted his Character. He just wanted to do the right thing and made those tough decisions humbly and fearlessly.

My second takeaway, was an autographed copy of his book. 😉

Bush autograph

I’m not a professional journalist and this post is not about politics. It’s about how I was personally impressed by a decent man doing his best to trust God and effectively do the most difficult job on the planet.

(cross-posted at MBFCF)