Monday, January 21, 2013

I have learned that the kitchen is a magical place...

"That was delicious!"

There's nothing more satisfying then to have someone utter the words, "that was delicious!" those sweet words, but soon after your applauding guests fade away, you realize you're still staring into an empty pan. We always wonder if our next dish is going to be a disaster. Sometimes cooking a great meal can be as easy as having the right tools, ingredients and of course passion.

Being Puerto Rican; I have learned to appreciate our love affair with food. I can remember my own kitchen as I was growing up, and seeing my Abuelita (grandma) going at it like some mad scientist. The smell of spices and herbs filled the lab as it slowly cooked for the base of her yellow fluffy rice. Her hands filled with spices, and the sound of clinking pots let me know that something magical was happening.

My favorite time was when we would go to the whole foods market. She always weighed the veggies and fruit with her hands, and then smelled, squeezed, and stared at the texture for a long time. I honestly thought she was crazy and that we would never get out of the market, but then I noticed everyone was doing the same thing... then I thought, "that must be what makes the food so good." As I got older, I realized that was the best way to pick them.

Own Coqui the Chef pilón
Now, as an adult my friends and I tell jokes "You know you're Puerto Rican when....." well you know. It's funny because it's true. I might not have a wooden machete on the wall that says Puerto Rico on it, but I do have my pilón (mortar and pestle) and tostonera (wooden press for making fried plantains) . I could just imagine my family's expression if I didn't. When my grandma came over to my place for the first time, she went to the kitchen and asked if I bought the pilón. When I told her no, out came the wooden spoon for her to hit me over the head with. (For the record, my grandma is not abusive she just shows her tough love...the tough way.)

Oh, and don't get me started on the herbs and spices! If the food didn't have the fresh cilantro or spice, well...olvidate! (forget it!). I explained to my grandma that I live in the city, not in the country, and I just can't grow my own herbs and spices as conveniently. "Then buy this brand", she would say to me. So as long as I found the brand she recommended, I knew in my heart my meals would taste fantastic. I've always admired her sense of taste and love for freshness.

If you ever find yourself staring into an empty pan remember you can never go wrong if it's fresh and from the heart. I have learned that the kitchen is a magical place, where you just might surprise yourself given the right tools, ingredients and a dash of love. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Los Tres Reyes Magos--Feliz Dia de los Reyes!

If you are Puerto Rican then you probably celebrate "El Dia de los Reyes". After Christmas they put a Reyes statue as a centerpiece on  dinning room table so the family remembers - the holidays are not over yet "todavia faltan los Reyes."

Los Reyes arrive before dawn on January 6th. For centuries Puerto Rican children have celebrated Los Reyes in the same manner as their grandparents did when they were children. January 6 is called Epiphany and is traditionally the day in which the Magi arrived bearing gifts for the Christ child. Even to this day in Hispanic countries throughout the world, January 6 is the day that children receive their Christmas gifts, in commemoration of the Magi's visit.

Víspera de Reyes

On La Víspera de Reyes (the Eve of Three Kings Day) Puerto Rican children cut grass to put in a shoe box under their bed for the camels to eat. Their "wish list" is placed on top of the grass. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends ask children to put a box under their bed too - just in case.

The Reyes only come if the child has been good all year and if the children are awake they bypass the house.  On this night children sleep lightly listening for any strange noises, whispers, or maybe sounds of the camels' hooves, or any tale-tale signs of the Kings' arrival. Sometime during the night Los Reyes arrive and quietly leave their gifts for the children while their camels enjoy their snack.

In the morning the island is filled with the joy and the laughter of happy children enjoying their new bikes, skates, dolls, and other toys. It is a joyful day full of celebration. Later in the day a holiday dinner is prepared and friends and relatives join in the festivities. Relatives bring the children the boxes left under their beds now empty of grass but filled with gifts. What fun!

Click here to read more about the tradition and Los Tres Reyes Magos/Three Kings...