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

Martas kitchen logo 1 copy-1

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.
  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

Martas kitchen logo 1 copy-1

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.


[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

  • 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)

Sweet! from Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen

Martas kitchen logo 1 copy-1

Miss me yet?

I haven’t been cooking as much as I’d like (or as much as my family would like, but that’s not important right now). That doesn’t mean I haven’t been busy.
I’ve been experimenting with food and presentation and recipes and tastes.

I’ve also been experimenting with tape. Video tape. (I know. Shut up.)

Today’s offering is Me *takes bow*, making dulce de leche, in the crockpot. One day when I have my own cooking show, this is what it will be like.

Only then, I will definitely have a crew to clean up after me. (Right? Right?? Come on, you guys…)

Crockpot Dulce de Leche from Marta Darby on Vimeo.

Crockpot Dulce de Leche

  • 1- 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • Crockpot
  • Water
  1. Peel the paper off of the can.
  2. Place the still sealed can in the crockpot full of water so it just covers the top of the can.
  3. Cook on low for 7 or 8 hours. Or on high for 5 to 6 hours.
  4. Remove with tongs. Can will be very hot.
  5. Let the can cool and open carefully once it has cooled.
  6. The dulce de leche is ready to eat straight out of the can or to be used in recipes.

Buen Provecho!

“So help me, God.”

I’ve spent the last week serving on a jury for a criminal trial at the County Courthouse in Santa Ana, here in California. (If I tell you any more, I’d have to kill you, but that’s not important right now.)


I’ll be honest with you: I’m not enjoying it.

I have been sitting through hours of testimony and evidence and exhibits one through twelve. But I’m not happy about it.

I may not discuss the details of the trial with anyone. Which makes me feel a little crazed.

I have to sit completely still. And be quiet. And listen attentively. For hours.

For a chatty and friendly and active Cuban woman such as myself, all of this adds up to cruel and unusual punishment.

But I remember this….

It was in this very courthouse that I was sworn in as an American citizen in 1974. I was 19 years old and very proud and sober and serious about the oath I was taking:

“I hereby declare, on oath,

that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;

that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;

that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;

that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law;

that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion;

so help me, God.

That’s right. I took An Oath. And I said, “So help me, God.” And I meant it.

So, while I’m not happy to be serving on a jury because of my own selfish, personal discomfort, I feel extremely proud and privileged to do so.

In Cuba, as in many other socialist nations, there is no such thing as “being innocent until proven guilty.”

There is no such thing as a “jury of your peers.”

Simply stated, there is no such thing as freedom.

I voted today. In free elections. Because I live in a Representative Republic and I have a voice.

I know that I happen to be using that voice to complain (loudly!) about having to do my civic duty. And that’s part of the beauty of this system: it’s my right to complain if I want to.

But ultimately, it’s my joy to serve, because I remember that it’s not that I have to serve in the judicial process….it’s that I get to.

Go Vote. It’s your privilege as an American citizen. In other words, you get to.

(cross posted at MBFCF)

Merchandising is not the same as Truth

Next week marks the anniversary of the death of mass-murderer Che Guevara.

Many of us have had more than our share of run-ins with ignorant hipsters sporting t-shirts and messenger bags with the idealized image of the “revolutionary poster boy.” Like most Cubans, I’m not shy about offering the truth of who Che was and why their t-shirt is not cool.

Sometimes, as most writers here on Babalú can attest to, it’s an exhausting uphill battle. You almost have to start from scratch and explain the historical truth about Cuba and Castro and that murderous rat-bastard Che.

So I was thrilled to receive a call from the Vice-President of  Young America’s Foundation, Patrick Coyle, asking if I would be willing to get the word out about “No More Che Day 2010.”

logo no more che day

If you click on this link, Young America’s Foundation can provide you with free copies of their “Victims of Che Guevara” poster and other download-able fliers to distribute for No More Che Day.

che victims

I would ask that you forward YAF’s link through your own blogs and also on Facebook and Twitter.

A big Thank You to YAF for getting it. Let the re-education begin.


(cross-posted at MBFCF)

Desi’s in Miami this weekend (and I am not). *sigh*

I was privileged to have had the opportunity to be in Miami in May for Cuba Nostalgia.

While there, I got to see and hang out with most of my favorite intransigent bloggers (=D) and to experience the food and music that define me as a Cuban.

I love living in So Cal, but every now and then, Miami sings her siren song to me. (It usually comes with a killer bongo beat, but that’s not important right now.)

Desi Babalu poster

Opening tomorrow, July 8 through July 11 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami, there’s a show I’d love to see. It’s called….. (wait for it….) Babalú. (I know. Shut up.)

Starring Lucie Arnaz, with guests Raul Esparza, and Valarie Pettiford, and dancers Jeanette Delgado and Richard Amaro and very special guest (be still my foolish heart) Desi Arnaz, Jr. (Yes, that’s right MY Desi. *sigh*)

So, if you’re in Miami this weekend, please go see this show. Do it for me.

And don’t forget to tell Desi that Marta sent you. *sigh*

(cross-posted at MBFCF)

Cuban Miami – A Story Book

My family left Cuba in early 1961.

My brother was on the first Pedro Pan flight in December of 1960. Happily, my family was only separated for a few very tense months. But we were part of the lucky few who managed to leave the country rather quickly.

Once reunited, my father vowed we’d never be separated again and so when my older sisters were to be married in California, he packed up the family and we never looked back.

We lived in Miami for the first 3 years of our exile, before my parents moved us across the country and so we made our lives in Southern California.

As Cubans in California – “en el exilio del exilio” – we managed to find other Cuban families and connected with the familiar community of people who spoke our language and recognized our customs and our food.

Verdes sisters 63
My sisters and me. Miami, circa 1962.

There were other waves of Cuban refugees. But unarguably, those who landed in Miami during the early 1960’s and 70’s were the ones who built that city.

I’ve just received a copy of the beautiful book, Historic Photos of Cuban Miami by Jennifer Ortiz. With nearly 200 black and white photographs and detailed captions and stories. It has simultaneously captivated my attention, made me joyful and fiercely proud, but also broken my heart.

Cuban exiles are amazing people, individually and collectively.

cuban miami book

My mom poured over the book for hours, pointing out familiar faces and reciting the names of the former presidents of Cuba who lived in Miami in exile. We sat together and turned pages and it was like I was a child once again. I sat quietly as each photo triggered a memory and she told me story after story.

She pointed to a photo, “My first visit to Miami was aboard the S.S. Florida.” She remembered her excitement and how she and my dad packed as if for a world cruise rather than a weekend trip.

ss florida

She marveled over the photos of the historic Vizcaya Estate and laughed out loud as she saw the photos and remembered moments from the ground-breaking television show, “Que Pasa, USA?”

The folks at Turner Publishing have generously sent me a copy of this gorgeous coffee table book to give away. Yes, to give away. (I know. Shut up.)

To be entered in the drawing for this beautiful book, please leave a comment on this same post over at MBFCF. (<—click the link and leave a comment over there.)

I’d love to hear your answers to these 3 questions:

  • Where in Cuba is your family from?
  • What year did they arrive in the U.S?
  • Do you still have family there?

I’ll be choosing a winner on Monday, June 21, 2010 at 11 am Pacific Time.

By the way, this is my answer:

“Havana. 1961. Yes.”

O-JEC March for Cuban Freedom

Last week at Cuba Nostalgia, we were privileged to meet a group of young people in Miami that go by the name of “O-JEC” which stands for “Organizacion de Jovenes Exiliados Cubanos” (Organization of Young Exiled Cubans). The young men and women of O-JEC are going to march for 7 days. Yes. SEVEN DAYS.

Ojec & Val
Val with members of O-JEC.

On May 31st, Memorial Day, three leaders of O-JEC are going to start at Mile 0 in Key West (where the “90 miles to Cuba” sign is) and over the next seven days they will march all the way to La Ermita De La Caridad (3609 South Miami Avenue; Miami, FL 33133-4205). They have the whole thing mapped out with breaks and everything. They are even going to stop and place flowers on the Jose Martí monument. Essentially, these young Cuban exiles will be walking from 8am until 6pm every day. (See schedule below.)

150 miles in 7 days. May 31st through June 6. It would be wonderful if this went viral and thousands of Cubans showed up dressed in white to support the youths, but if you can’t take a week off, there are PLENTY of ways to show your support.

You could meet them along the way and walk for just a bit.
If you’re not up for marching in the Miami heat, you can meet them at La Ermita de La Caridad at 1pm on Sunday, June 6th to celebrate their success and participate in the mass honoring the victims of the regime that begins at 3pm.

You could donate to the cause at www.o-jec.com or mail a check made out to:

La Organizacion de Jovenes Exiliados Cubanos
8567 Coral Way
Miami, FL 33155

These young people are marching “to demand the rights that the Cubans of the island cannot demand for themselves.”

They march in tribute to the victims of the communist (c)astro regime who have risked and/or lost their lives in attempts for freedom: balseros, Brothers to the Rescue,  2506 Brigade, and the prisoners from the Black Spring. O-JEC wants the world to pay attention and what better way to make a statement than a 7-day march? They are marching in support of the Ladies in White and demanding the release of political prisoners in Cuba. They are marching for Cuban freedom.

Young Cuban exiles are taking up the fight for a free Cuba.
Please support them, if you can.

?OJEC Schedule

Cuba Nostalgia – My Big, Fat, Cuban Family Edition

Although most of the Babalú contributors are located in Miami, there are some of us who traveled from the West Coast to attend Cuba Nostalgia.

There is plenty of sweat and tears that go into setting up the Babalú Booth, but once the first family members arrive with pastelitos and café, it all becomes worth it (Yes, Val, you know it’s true).

Between keeping the posts coming on the site and connecting with the amazing people that share their Cuban stories, we get to hang out and just be together. This is usually the one time of the year we are all in the same place, but it never feels like a whole year has gone by.

We slip easily into the familiar rhythms of conversation. Regular readers stop by to give us hugs and tell us how much they appreciate what we do. It’s quite the love-fest.

People bring food and take photos and there’s a lot of friendly banter. Of course, we talk politics, and try to further the cause of freedom in Cuba, in between bites of croquetas. But we also give and get lots of hugs, and we openly express our appreciation for one another.

It feels very much like a wonderful family reunion.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Babalu family portrait

(Amanda, Ziva, Alberto, Marta, Val, Pitbull)

In God We Trust

Today is the National Day of Prayer.

If some groups in our country had their way, today would be the last Day of Prayer celebrated nationally. I don’t know what their beliefs are (or if they even have any, outside of not believing that there is a God).

But I do know this: There is no way you can go to our nation’s capital and continue to argue that this great country was not founded as a specifically Christian nation. A year ago, I might have been swayed by the “America is not a Christian nation”argument, but no more.

One year ago we traveled to Washington D.C. and saw for ourselves that just the opposite was true.

It was there that I began to take notice that the references to God were many and frequent. In fact, every speech quoted by the Founding Fathers, every letter they wrote and now in every monument, engraved in stone are their words continuing to profess their faith in a good and providential God.

Honoring God was obviously a high priority in their lives and in creating this great experiment called America. I say obviously because their words began jumping out at me. I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude and an awareness of God’s sovereignty in allowing this country to be established in His name.

The Smithsonian.

John Quincy Adams

The Jefferson Memorial.

Altar of God

Arlington National Cemetery.

A prayer

The Jefferson Memorial.

God who gave

The Lincoln Monument.

Lincoln mem.

This is on the corner of the painting, The Embarkation of the Pilgrims by Robert Walter Weir in the Capitol Rotunda.

Painting in the capital dome

In the Presidential Oath.

Presidential oath

And my personal favorite. The capstone of the Washington Monument.

Capstone engraving
The National Park Service displays a replica of this capstone at the top of the monument. It is a pyramid which has four sides to it. Of course, the actual capstone is at the 555 foot level at the top and cannot be seen. It’s made out of metal because the Washington Monument is the highest point in the city. It therefore also acted as a lightning rod.

What is not visible is the inscription on the East Side of the capstone. It simply reads in Latin, “Laus Deo,” or “Praise be to God.” (The reason the photo is so blurry is because the capstone was pushed against the wall on this particular side – shame on the NPS for trying to obscure it! – and I had to bend myself into a pretzel to get the photo of this, but that’s not important right now.)


The words, Laus Deo, “Praise be to God” are facing the East because it is the very first spot in the city of Washington D.C. that the sun hits as it rises. It was placed there very deliberately in the hopes that the very first rays of the light of the sun each morning would cause this country to give glory to God.

Let that sink in for just a moment.

From atop the Washington Monument you can take in a beautiful panoramic view of the city. The original plan of the designer, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, can be easily discerned from that vantage point.

The White House to the North, the Jefferson Memorial to the South, the Capitol to the East and the Lincoln Memorial to the West you can see that the city was very obviously designed in the shape of a cross.

Reflecting pool

I believe in a good and powerful and merciful God. I believe it was by His gracious providence that this amazing country was established.

I am very, very proud to be an American. I love this country. Having fled communism in Cuba, I love and appreciate the freedoms we enjoy here in the U.S. When I was in school, we were taught that the Pilgrims risked everything to come here to this savage land to escape religious persecution. That’s no longer being taught in our California public schools. And sadly, religious persecution still exists.

I’ll be on my knees today. I’ll be praying for many things, but mostly that everything this nation was founded on and stands for, would never, ever be obscured.

Laus Deo.

“Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged. ~ Ronald Reagan

(cross-posted at MBFCF)