Clotilde looked small and unsuspicious and seriously out of place in my kitchen filled with thrust and G force way beyond her means. After all, she was only a 13-pounder turkey, and the kitchen gang had long gotten used to handling birds of more hefty stature. But Clotilde was the fleshiest of the flock for the post-Pilgrim holiday. I like to think of myself as an out-of-the-box person, most definitely cook, so, it was no surprise to me or my friends when I announced my Thanksgiving meal would be taking place three weeks after the holiday had passed.
No one seemed surprised. And no one said no. How could they? They knew it would be an ocean of culinary delights, from the turkey, to the stuffing to the mashed sweet potatoes, cranberry relish, cranberry port sauce, and on and on and on. Ending with pies. Many pies because one is never enough.
My house is colorful and bright, every tile, art work, or cookbook holds a fun and usually tasty story of the life that bonds Yeshua and I together. However, my house is a wee bit tight and breathes easier with the help of our huge backyard, which, for the ocassion, was decked out and ready to accomodate people, particularly stuffed ones. Plans, of course, are made to be broken, for that day was grey and blustery and, fifteen minutes before our dinner party was to begin, showcased a true Florida rainstorm, the kind where your windshield wiper is on overdrive and you still can’t see beyond your nose. Outdoors: cancelled.
Clotilde looked lovely for the event: evenly browned and dazzling with her accessory of Mom’s Famous Stuffing (both cavity and neck). As I set her aside to rest on her own board, she seemed to reassure me that everything would work out, my parties inevitably gravitate around the kitchen. I laughed out loud. Clotilde was right. I laughed again. I am listening and taking advice from a cooked turkey. I must be a chef. Or insane. Or both.
But you read this and you know at some point you’ve done the same (haven’t you?) And you know how this ends, Clotilde was correct: the party did gravitate to the kitchen, where, impromptu butts sat on countertops, stood, chatted, drank delicious champagne and noshed on treats brought by everyone, awaiting for our moment of thanks.
I had added a Hanukah component to the evening, given we were smack in the week of that celebration and as I stood watching my dear friend Ana Paula fry up our latkes, I smiled in agreement when she coined the evening Thankshanukah: a bit of blessing, a bit of grease, a lot of friendship and food.
El show era parte entrevista, parte hechando cuentos y, parte demostración culinaria. Daisy e Ingrid (porque después de oír sobre las luchas de Ingrid con Lupus y el amor de Daisy para los martinis rápidamente expedimos a base de primer nombre) habló de sus propias familias multiculturales y viajes del raices humildes latinas a estrellas en el Food Network. Había mucha rememoración sobre las abuelitas y el papel influyente que tenían en cada uno de estas mujeres. Aunque yo no conoci mis abuelitas, yo tenía a mi querida nana colombiana, Yolanda, cuyo humor, sabiduria y secretos culinarios me formaron tanto como sus abuelas a ellas. La atmósfera en el Centro de Arscht era tan acogedor que Daisy casi empezo a reprender aquellos quien informaron no saber lo que es aceite de annatto. Ella tomó pausa y con cuidado explicó este secreto de la cocina latina: las semillas de annatto son filtradas en el aceite y usadas como un colorante y técnica de condimento para muchos platos latinos, como el camarón que ella preparaba esa noche.
Ingrid cocinó para nosotros primero, abrazando su mantra de la comida sana, utilizando un tallo de cilantro (un ingrediente favorito suyo) como su arreglo floral y exposición de su estilo rápido y simple con la preparación de camarón en un Chile poblano y salsa tomatillo, arroz de coco, y una ensalada de palmitos. Reflejando el mismo orgullo multicultural que compromete Miami, ella explicó este para ser un plato diversamente latino que usa ingredientes de México, Colombia y Argentina. Ella terminó de deslumbrar al auditorio con un martini de guayaba apetitoso hecho con vodka de jalapeño-infundido. ¡Perdone el cliché, pero, caliente! Y ella hizo todos este en diez minutos.
Daisiy cocinó camarón también, pero tomó una ruta más tradicional con una interpretación sofrito clásica que añadio una sorpresa sirviendo este plato picante sabroso encima de una cachapa venezolana, una tortita de harina de maíz tradicionalmente comida con queso blanco fresco.
Había un par de problemitas para ella a lo largo del camino: ¡necesidad de maniobrar la estufa electrica (“cocino con gas, que les puedo decir!” ella admitió) y una espátula el tamaño del juego de cocina de un niño en vez del verdadero trato de tirar su cachapas. Pero, estos obstáculos sólo sirvieron para realzar su estilo gracioso cuando ella descaradamente aró por ellos dando al auditorio muchas risas (sus ayudantes los nombro Ninja #1 y Ninja #2) a lo largo del camino e igualmente importante, produciendo un plato delicioso por vista y olor, por lo menos, al final. Otra vez, como un mero miembro de auditorio, yo no era el retrete a la prueba, pero, estando en la fila #7 golpe al medio, consigui realmente el aroma y era embriagadoramente rico.
¿Más tarde, durante una sesión de preguntas, dos niñas con sombreros de chef se acercaron al micrófono para confesar que ellas no tenían una pregunta pero podrían recibir un abrazo en cambio? Tanto Daisy como Ingrid de buena gana obedecieron, dejando más que unos miembros de auditorio celosos sin duda.
Lorena Garcia, la chef venezolana y anfitrióna del show de cocina de Despierta América en Univisión, era la única alma afortunada capaz de probar la comida exquisita preparado por estas dos señoras talentosas. Lorena aparecería por instinto en la etapa final cuando tanto Ingrid como Daisy terminaban y su entusiasmo probando la comida da testimonio de lo que mi sentido del olor dijo: ¡excelente!
Este no era sólo una tarde llena de risas, conversación agradable, y aromas intoxicantes. Era lo que hace Miami mi casa y por qué: la conversión de culturas que se enmohecen tan fácilmente que un auditorio entero es capaz de incluir español e inglés en un momento culinario y no darse cuenta que lo han hecho así. Supongo que la manera en que me crie me hace asi: nacida en Venezuela por una madre americana y un padre israelita, todo el rato meticulosamente nutrido por mi nana colombiana, me dio los sabores a muchos mundos. Éstos son sabores que me han formado, me han alimentado, y me han propulsado por mi vida. La vista de estas mujeres que comparten gustos similares a un auditorio lleno de gente impaciente con saborear y vivir y aprender lo que es la comida multicultural latina me hizo sentir una parte de algo más grande y más sabroso.
She promised us she doesn’t normally cook this way, but believe me, a tall, attractive woman in a tight black dress, stiletto heels and a chef’s jacket is quite a turn on, even if you’re heterosexual. This is how the culinary goddess Daisy Martinez, from The Food Network’s Daisy Cooks! arrived to cook on stage last Friday night at Miami’s Adrienne Arscht Center. She was joined by the well-loved and charismatic local Miami celebrity Food Network star of Simply Delicioso, Ingrid Hoffman (whose warmth and approachable nature reminded me of a Latin Rachael Ray) Together they kicked off the center’s Celebrity Chef Series (which includes other greats, Jacques Pepin, Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Bourdain) beginning with a spice of Latin fun.
And what fun it was! Part interview, part storytelling, part cooking demo (with a house filled with salivating audience members), Daisy and Ingrid (because after hearing about Ingrid’s struggles with Lupus and Daisy’s affection for martinis we fast forwarded to a first-name basis) talked about their own multi-cultural families and journeys from humble Latin roots to successful Food Network mega stars. There was much reminiscing about abuelitas (grandmothers) and the influential role they had on each one of these women. This was something I could relate to because even though I didn’t have an abuelita, I had my Colombian nanny, Yolanda, whose jokes, wise cracks, and culinary secrets (such as the tastiest cabbage salad from Tia Beatriz) shaped me as much as their abuelas had shaped them.
The atmosphere at the Arscht Center was so casual, Daisy nearly stepped off the stage to reprimand those who admitted not knowing what annatto oil was. Silent gasps amongst Latin peers were heard as she took pause and carefully explained this secret of Latin cooking: annatto seeds are seeped in oil and used as a coloring and flavoring technique for many Latin dishes, such as the shrimp she was preparing that night.
Ingrid cooked for us first, embracing her mantra of healthy, wholesome eating, using a stalk of cilantro (a favorite ingredient of hers) as her floral arrangement and showing her fast and simple style with the preparation of shrimp in a poblano chile and tomatillo salsa, coconut rice, and a heart of palm salad. Reflecting the same multi-cultural pride that compromises Miami, she explained this to be a diversely Latin dish drawing ingredients from Mexico, Colombia and Argentina. She finished dazzling the audience with a mouthwatering guava martini made with jalapeño-infused vodka. Pardon the cliché but, caliente! And she did this all in ten minutes.
Daisy cooked shrimp as well but took a more traditional route with a classic sofrito rendition adding a surprise twist by serving this savory piquant dish on top of a Venezuelan sweet corn cachapa, or cornmeal pancake, traditionally eaten with fresh white cheese. As the cachapa sizzled Daisy promised us it would be crunchy on the outside but tender on the inside serving as the perfect companion to her shrimp. There’s something about Daisy that makes you just believe.
There were a couple of hiccups for her along the way: having to maneuver an electric stovetop (“I do gas, what can I say!” she confessed) and being given a spatula the size of a toddler’s cooking set instead of the real deal to flip her cachapas. But, these obstacles only served to enhance her funk and funny style as she brazenly plowed through them giving the audience plenty of laughs (her assistants became Cooking Ninja #1 and Cooking Ninja #2 and enjoyed basking in her fun limelight) along the way and equally important, producing a delicious smelling dish at the end. Again, as a mere audience member, I was not privy to tasting, but, being on row #7 smack in the middle, I sure as hell did get the aroma and it was intoxicatingly rich and sweet and spicy all at once.
Later on, during a Q&A session, two little girls donning chef hats and mucho moxie approached the microphone to admit they didn’t have a question but could they get a hug instead? Both Daisy and Ingrid gladly complied, leaving more than a few audience members jealous no doubt.
Lorena Garcia, a Venezuelan native chef and host of Univision’s Despierta AmericaCocinando Con Nestle, was the moderator of this jovial event and the only lucky soul able to sample the exquisite food prepared by these two talented ladies. Lorena would instinctively pop up on the stage as both Ingrid and Daisy were barely done stirring their final stir and eagerly give us all a hands-on preview of the food being prepared. Her enthusiasm wolfing down the food (piping hot and knifeless) served to attest what my sense of smell said:excelente!
This was not only an evening filled with good laughs, pleasurable conversation, and enticing aromas. It was what makes Miami my home and why: the conversion of cultures, languages and backgrounds that mold so easily that an entire audience is able to slip in and out of Spanish and English and not even notice they’ve done so. I suppose growing up the way I did, food obsessed and raised in Venezuela by an American mother and Israeli father, all the while meticulously nurtured by my Colombian nanny, gave me the flavors of many worlds. These are flavors that have formed me, nourished me, and propelled me through my life. Seeing these women sharing similar patchworks of tastes to a house filled with an eager and anticipating audience made me feel a part of a bigger and more flavorful culinary whole.
I’d like to think of myself as being a modern, evolving, and accepting human being, one that is open to change, considers other’s ideas and suggestions, and constantly alters set patterns of behavior in hopes of achieving self-growth and a new perspective. However, there are some things I just don’t mess with. Take Thanksgiving dinner, for instance. I know, I know, it’s a wild and changing world out there—many others are achieving growth by glazing their birds with exotic fruit juices, smoking them in the backyard in big old garbage pails or even taking the plunge and tossing their ode to our country’s heritage in frightfully deep vats of boiling oil. They all make for delicious meals, I am sure. You just won’t find them in my home.Call me a foodie hypocrite, a culinary closet conservative, or whatever you like. On this day I don’t budge on my traditions, and, year after year, sit my family down to a classic meal of roast turkey with herbed stuffing, mashed potatoes, creamed onions, baby peas, and pumpkin and apple pies, respectively, all just like my mother made when I was a kid. I confess to one tiny slip-up in my traditionalism: my sister-in-law’s cranberry relish: too good not to introduce into our family ritual, even though, I still put out the jellied can stuff so as not to offend the die-hards.Occasionally, I get the 7-year turkey itch and my Thanksgiving routine temporarily feels boring. My mind may stray for an instant while looking at glossy magazine pictures exploring the new twists on bird stuffing, side dishes, or pie crusts, imagining what it may be like to prepare and eat these. But, before I can do any real damage in disrupting a solid and loving food family, my innate culinary instinct (a solid chunk of my DNA structure) kicks in, demanding and driving me to produce the traditional Thanksgiving dinner year after year. So far, I have heard no complaints from my family, just a whole lot of chewing.