Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kuba Kuba

It has all the textures of a true dive spot. The small local restaurant that people will regular no matter what. It's the food they come for. The food, the atmosphere, and the waitress that will remember your name.

The owner is a Cuban man with a wild mane of curling black hair and an equally unruly beard. He's put pictures of his family in Cuba in the 1950s all over every wall. He's even had a mural of his family painted on the wall above the bathroom doors. His parent's on their wedding day, himself at the age of seven with thick rimmed glasses and a chubby smile, and his sister at carnival.

They've made covers for each of the ceiling lights out of coffee cans. Cut to look like dresses, Barbie legs hanging out of them - Bustelo brand coffee. None of the chairs match and almost all of the tables are made for two. My table - the one I always hope to get - has been painted with a rooster on top and the label "Pelea de Gallo." The thick varnish has chips and dents in it, and you can still see the pencil marks sketching out the bird before painting it.

I come for the Cuban sandwich. Pulled pork, pickles, ham and Swiss grilled into Cuban bread. The fried plantains are a must, and they'll always sprinkle dices of tomato, yellow peppers and red onion on everything no matter what you order.

I know when I walk in the door already what I want. My list of regulars is short. The Cuban sandwich, huevos rancheros, the avocado salad or black bean soup with an extra piece of corn bread. Then there's always a fresh squeezed lemonade and a piece of tres leche cake for dessert. I don't even need a menu - I know what else is on there too. 

I come to write. This is a place where writing comes easily to me. This is a place where I can think clearly. It always relaxes me to eat here. I almost always come by myself now. I just sit and  watch people, eat and write.

Behind me the wall is filled with shelves filled with Cuban canned goods, coffees, and candles of the saints. It always looks like an old grocery store, fully stocked and dusted, but not touched in 25 years. If you get a candle for the guardian angel it will have a painting of a blond angel watching a small Hansel & Gretel pair crossing a bridge while a shining cross hangs in the sky over them.

This is the prayer from that candle:

Spirit protector who gives constant protection to me, my loved ones, and my friends, who helps me give guidance to those who assist me with answers to my life's problems and gives comfort to my soul. Reveal to me what I must do tomorrow and give me strength and courage to my afflicted spirit. Make my problems disappear and restore my faith. (concentrate on your desires.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The (almost) Secret Recipe of the (almost) Famous Ginger Snaps

Have you ever noticed if someone calls their dish "famous" it is inevitably a secret recipe? I don't know why this is so true but it's an easily observable phenomenon. If it were to preserve the marketability of a recipe brand that would be one thing, but typically no one has actually heard of this "famous" dish - nor is anyone trying to market it. This is the case with my mother's ginger snaps.


A holiday tradition in my family that is possibly a more important part of Christmas than gifts. These cookies deserve to be famous. They are not. Not really anyway.

We eat so many of them that my mom's only willing to make them a few times a year (and always only between November and January).


My mother got the recipe while in college. She was in a sorority (hoped for a long time I would follow that path too - crazy.) and the house "mom" made them regularly. When my mother loves something it is no small love. Her basic recipe is a double batch, and we typically double that every time, so it's a load of work to keep our house supplied. Now that we all live out on our own it's 5xs more work to keep all of our houses full for the season.


These cookies are sooo worth it.

Mama's Ginger Snaps
11/4 cup margarine (softened)
21/2 cups sugar ….. PLUS 1 cup to roll the dough balls in.
2 eggs
½ cup molasses
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Beat the butter, sugar, eggs and molasses in a large mixing bowl until smooth. In a second mixing bowl mix your baking soda and spices with your flour (I am very heavy handed with the spices).

Add the flour to wet ingredients slowly, about a cup at a time. 

Roll into balls about ¾” in diameter. Roll the dough balls in the reserved sugar. Place well spaced on the cookie sheet, as they spread. 

BAKE at 375°

Bake until done (about 8 minutes). That is up to you, my mom likes hers almost burnt ("extra crunchy" as she calls it).
Let them cool very slightly before removing from pan, but not too much or they don’t come off.