La Nochebuena means  "The Good Night", the night that Jesus Christ was born. It's Christmas Eve, and it is a big deal in Latin America and Spain, much more than Christmas day. 

In Cuba BC (before Castro) we celebrated with a "Cena de Nochebuena", a wonderful feast which took place late at night. Then we went to "La Misa del Gallo" or Midnight Mass and continued to celebrate the season until January 6th, El Dia de los Reyes Magos, when the Three Kings would bring presents to the children. 

Fidel and his Communist comarades did not allow Christmas,  because of that Religion thing totalitarians are so against. However, people stubbornly insisted on celebrating, even under Fidel's oppression and with very little to celebrate with.  So the Communists cleverly scheduled other celebrations (harvest, the Revolution) for the same December dates. Just like the ancient Church scheduled Christmas celebration near the pagan winter solstice celebrations.

 On our last Nochebuena in Cuba,  I remember quietly peaking over the wall that separated us from our neighbors, and watching them celebrate. It was 1967 and our family was not celebrating anything, my father had been sent to a “labor camp” for the crime of wanting to leave Cuba, and my mother was doing all she could just to feed us. 

The neighbors had put together tables and old doors on top of barrels to create one huge table, covered with various table cloths, at which all the family could be seated. It was late at night and along with the one spot light at the corner of the roof, which poorly illuminated the concrete patio, there were kerosene lamps illuminating the faces of the people gathered together to celebrate. I thought they looked beautiful, as they laughed and enjoyed themselves.

I couldn’t really distinguish the food on the table, but I pretended it held all the traditional foods, a roasted pig, plantains, rice, black beans, wine…. Not likely since  food was rationed and very hard to come by. Our neighbors had probably saved up provisions and pooled resources with other relatives for this celebration. There might have been some cans of eastern European peaches, with strange writing on the label... that was sometimes a special item available for the holidays.

Once we got to the US we resumed celebrating Nochebuena on Christmas Eve with our extended family, eating all the traditional Cuban foods, with roasted pork as the main course. A shoulder roast is great, cooked in the oven, but the real traditional way of cooking pork is by roasting it whole, in a pit in the ground, wrapped in banana leaves…or aluminum foil.

One year, after my parents came to live with us, my father decided he wanted to roast a pig the traditional way. We needed to find a whole pig, specifically a young tender one. My brother in law, Daniel, generously offered to take him to a livestock auction to buy a pig. Daniel doesn’t speak Spanish, and my father spoke  broken English, but he and Daniel had often gone hunting together, and they seemed to communicate well enough to manage just fine.

Off to the auction they went. Papillo was very excited, he loved livestock and this was his first auction. A HUGE pig was brought out and Papillo--who had a very expressive face and definitely talked with his hands--made an animated comment about the size of the animal. Unfortunately, Daniel thought my father was saying how much he liked the pig, and so he bid on it! 

The more Papillo exclaimed, the more Daniel bid. I think by the time my father realized they were buying the pig, it was too late. They had to borrow a trailer to bring it home!

My father was furious—furious with himself, with Daniel, with the huge job ahead of him. But he was never one to shy away from a difficult task, so he butchered the pig (I was grateful that this took place at Daniel and Nina’s house). However, the beast was prepared for cooking in my kitchen; my whole kitchen was taken over for several days. Every counter top and surface was covered with pork meat. Some of the pork was fried, but most of it was “adobado” (marinated) with mojo for roasting.

We decided to invite the whole neighborhood to join in the feast. A huge pit was dug in a neighbor’s yard; my father got up in the middle of the night, and tended the roasting pig until the middle of the next day. We had a marvelous neighborhood feast.   That was over twenty years ago, and we no longer live in that neighborhood, but the other day I ran into one of those neighbors and he talked about “the time we had the roasted pig.” 


I consider this is the centerpiece of Cuban cooking. Every major celebration would hopefully include a roasted pig, preferably roasted in a pit in the ground. Here is how you make lechon on a smaller scale, in the oven. I didn't pay attention the many times my parents prepared lechon, but fortunately my godmother Tia China taught me how to do it, after my father passed away. Tia China is my father’s youngest sister and I love her! We think a lot alike and have had a lot of great times together throughout the years. She even went camping with us at Lake Powell, while in her seventies. 

     1 Pork shoulder or Fresh Ham 
     Salt, lots
     A whole head of garlic
     1-2 cups Mojo (buy at Latin markets, or make your own. Click here for recipe)

Wash the pork and pat it dry with paper towels. Do not remove the fat. Rub with lots of salt. Puncture with a knife all over.
Peel and mash garlic cloves, I use a mortar and pestle. Add a tablespoon of salt. Put this paste into the holes you made in the pork. Pour mojo over the whole thing. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator, at least over night.

Bake uncovered, fat side up. First 15 minutes at 500 to toast the outside, then 30 minutes at 350 degrees, after that turn the oven down to 325.  Bake ½ hour per pound, or till meat thermometer says it’s done (180 internal temp).  Puncture fat every so often with a fork. 

Eat it with all the trimmings (yuca, tostones, frijoles negros, arroz, flan, etc), but most of all with family and friends! 

Feliz Navidad! 

CARNE CON PAPAS-Meat & Potatos

I've been tending grandchildren while their parents are out of town, it's a lot of work but oh so very rewarding. Got me thinking about the wonderful and almost magical bond between grandchildren and their grandparents. My children were blessed to grow up with grandparents that were very available to them.

When my parents got close to retirement, my husband suggested we invite them to come live with us. Not having housing expenses they would be able to stretch their retirement income and do a little traveling. We felt it was a way of thanking them for the sacrifices they had made for us, and their courage in leaving Cuba and starting over in the US to provide a chance for us children to live free. 

For a long time they hesitated to accept our invitation.  They feared that moving in with us would be too great an imposition. My father used his colorful language as an excuse not to take us up on our offer.  He was concerned about the grandchildren picking up his Cuban swearing!  But finally, they accepted and came to live in an apartment we created for them in our basement. 

For more than twenty years, during Spring, Summer and Fall, our family had the blessing and challenge of having three generations living together under one roof. Winters they would drive to Miami and visit family.  Our children grew up enveloped in their grandparents love, this more than compensated for the loss in privacy.

Of course, another great benefit was being able to enjoy Mamina's cooking! Here is one of the stand-by dishes she cooked quite often, because it's simple to make and we all loved it. 

I liked Carne Con Papas best when Mamina made it with carrots and potatoes (sometimes even broccoli) from Papillo's garden.

It might seem similar to a stew, but it is not as soupy.

CARNE CON PAPAS- Meat & Potatoes

Olive oil to coat the frying pan
1 onion 
½ to 1 green bell pepper 
3-5 garlic cloves
1- 8 oz can of tomato sauce 

2 lbs. cubed Stew Meat
4 to 6  Potatoes, cubed
3 to 4  Carrots chopped 
1 tsp  Salt
¼ cup Cooking Wine (optional-it’s still great without it)

2 cups of broccoli florets- if you happen to have some around

Make sofrito: chop onion, garlic and pepper finely. Sautee in olive oil on medium high, for 3 to 4 minutes. 

Add the meat and brown it for about 5 minutes.

Cube potatoes, cut carrots in large round pieces.

Add the tomato sauce, potatoes, carrots, salt, and cooking wine to the meat, (broccoli too, if you are including it). Turn temperature down to medium-low, cover, and cook for 45 minutes.

Serve with rice and a salad.


I've been thinking about my first Halloween. Our family arrived in the US at the end of July in the late 60's. My father's family helped us find a place to live, work, schools, etc. They taught us about this wondrous country and new culture. A couple of months later, we started hearing about Halloween. Our cousins explained that children dressed up in costumes, then went door to door and people gave them candy! 

Wow, I loved dressing up in costumes. During our last few years in Cuba,  Mamina had let us use her pretty loungerie to play princesses. She knew we would be leaving everything behind when permission to leave the country finally came, so why not let the children have some fun with her pretty things. We did have fun and destroyed her gowns, climbing, running and having sword fights. 

So here we were in this new country I was still unsure about, and I find out there is a holiday for dressing up and pretending! Plus the candy. In Cuba we couldn't even buy candy, because there wasn't any to buy, and my cousins tell me that in the US the neighbors are going to give us candy just for dressing up and asking for it!!!!

I'm pretty sure I was thinking "What A Country" long before Yakov Smirnoff made the phrase famous! 
And so at 13 years old I got to go trick or treating for the first and last time....unless you count taking the children trick or treating.

Halloween has me thinking about pumpkins. Pumpkin in Spanish is Calabaza, but the calabaza I knew in Cuba is nothing like a pumpkin. Well, it is shaped like a pumpkin, but it is a green spotted squash with  yellow-orange flesh. I searched all over for a picture of the kind of calabazas we ate in Cuba but couldn't find a good one. This is the closest I found on the web: Calabaza Squash. It's also called West Indian Pumpkin You can buy it in Latin markets, usually already cut in pieces, because it's hard to cut. Papillo was always searching for the right variety of seeds to grow a proper calabaza in Utah, but was not successful.

My mother often cooked calabaza, because my father loved it.  She cut the calabaza in large pieces and cooked it in her pressure cooker, with a little water. It was soft in 5 minutes. While it cooked she sauted onions and garlic in olive oil. Sometimes just garlic. Then she'd take the calabaza out of the pressure cooker, pour garlic and oil over it, sprinkle with salt and scoop right off the peel to eat. 

I can't find any real calabaza where I live, but I  prepared some butternut squash in a similar way to how my mother cooked calabaza and it was delicious!  Acorn squash (or any other hard winter squash) also works. 
Butternut Squash


½ of a calabaza  squash, or butternut squash
3 garlic cloves
1 onion  
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil or butter
Salt to taste

Wash squash.  Cut into a few pieces, remove seeds. You can peel it at this point, but it is easier after it's cooked. Put the squash pieces in a pan with about 1 inch of water, cover and steam for 10-15 minutes, until tender. Just five minutes in a pressure cooker, let the pressure disipate completely before opening it. Peel the squash and cut it into smaller pieces

Pieces of butternut squash

Or leave it in large pieces
Acorn squash pieces

While the squash is cooking, slice onions and sauté them in butter or olive oil, on medium heat, until translucent

Mince or smash the garlic

Add to the sautéing onions and cook 1-2 minutes longer, the smell will be wonderful and permeate your whole house.

 Spread this on top of the squash and sprinkle with salt generously. 

This is good for you and yummy. Enjoy! 

"Calabaza, calabaza, cada uno pa' su casa"- a saying which basically means it's time to go home. Thanks for the reminder, Rosa! 


My friend Rosa Hernandez (read more about her on her previous post Bacalao Con Papas ) is guest blogging once again! Reading this you will find that besides animals, reading and cooking she also loves music. I am so excited to share this wonderful post with you all! Thank you Rosa!



Growing up in Communist Cuba we didn’t have much. No one did. But we had each other, we had good friends and neighbors and we had Music. We always had music.

Some of my earliest memories have musical backgrounds, in our house the radio played all the time. I remember being very small and playing in the tub with plastic toys while my mother hovered somewhere nearby. The radio in the next room was playing this: 

Orquesta Aragon “Los Pescadores de Varadero”

My father’s family all left Cuba early on but most of my mom’s family stayed behind. When I was growing up we would occasionally have family get togethers in our huge backyard. I remember my mom and her sisters-in-law in the kitchen cooking up Frituras. These were small fried morsels and always delicious. Typically they were made from grated vegetables but vegetables were hard to come by. They improvised by making what my uncle’s wife used to call “Frituras de Aire” Air Fritters. They were basically flour and water and garden grown herbs rolled into little balls and fried. They were delicious. 

At these get togethers, my grandfather and his brother Tio Felo would sing on their own or with the radio. I can almost hear them singing along to this:

Beny More “Maracaibo”

Oh so many memories associated with music! Songs I heard with my grandfather, songs I heard with my dad, my brother, songs my mom sang. With the passing of the years they should sound fainter…but they don’t.


Just like modern day potato chips, these very plain frituras are not long on taste but they are hot, crunchy comfort food.

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice.
(I am sure dried herbs would be fine too. I used about 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil. I think dried would take less amount)
Oil for frying

Mix all together in a bowl to make a pancake like batter and let it rest for about 5 to 10 minutes. Letting it rest will enhance the flavor. In any case, though, the flavor will not be over powering.

Heat up your electric fryer or heat oil in a skillet and drop the batter by spoonfuls. They will turn golden quickly. Flip them. When the second side is golden, remove them quickly.

Let them rest a few minutes. They are actually better warm than piping hot. At least I thought so. The flavor came through better.

And that's it.

I had a friend assist me and we loved these and will make them again. I don't own an electric fryer, it's hers, so I would have to involve her in the next Fritura adventure. She assures me she is game. Next I want to try using cornmeal.

I toyed with the idea of adding sugar, soy sauce, crumbled bacon, bbq sauce (one or the other not all) but that would have violated the original concept of the "aire" idea set out by my mom and her sisters-in-law back in the day. 

Maybe I will try my additions at some point but these were fine and didn't necessarily need to be altered.

Baking in a Pressure Cooker

Mamina's pressure cooker
For me, one of the most challenging things about cooking for my family every day is coming up with ideas of what to cook. My mother had the same struggle, "No se que hacer hoy", she would say. However, she was aware that this was a good problem because she had many choices, as opposed to when we were in Cuba and the challenge was to find something to feed the family, because even the most basic ingredients were scarce.  

On the flip side, she would get very excited when she had a new recipe or the grandkids wanted her to cook something special. 

I'm finding that blogging contains a similar challenge. I wonder which recipe to post when and just like with cooking dinner I love requests! 

So I am excited to respond to this email I received a few days ago from Tamara:

I was reading your recipe for puding de pan and I would love the directions for the pressure cooker method. My grandma used to do it like this but no one in my family ever learned before she passed away.  I would appreciate it tremendously. Thank you!
My mother, like many Cubans, cooked almost everything in her pressure cooker. I imagine this practice began in Cuba because ovens create a lot of heat, and who wants to heat up the house when you live in a tropical island. Using a pressure cooker also shortens the cooking time trememdously, and who wants to be cooking all day when you live in a tropical paradise... This practice also served well after Castro reduced the island to poverty and there was no gas for the stoves or ovens. 
My mother went through several pressure cookers in her life, they were all similar, not very fancy or expensive. When I decided to buy one, I researched them all and bought one I thought was much better than my mother's. It certainly was more expensive. But it leaks, and it doesn't build up pressure properly or cook evenly. Very annoying. I use Mamina's now... If you would like to do some research on pressure cookers, here is a great place to begin: 
 Top 5 Pressure Cookers for Quick and Easy Meals”

So this is how you bake in a pressure cooker:

Put the round metal rack (Isis says it's called a trivet) on the 

bottom of the pressure cooker. 

Pour the blended ingredients for Pudin de Pan, Cake, Flan (recipe still to come), etc. into any kind of oven proof metal mold that will fit into the pressure cooker. 

Here is a store bought one with a nice lid and clamps that keep the lid in place

My father usually made these molds for my mother. He used a #10 can, like the one in the picture, cut it in half and turned down the sharp cut edge so it was smooth and safe to touch. He liked to make all kinds of things and Mamina seemed to prefer to use his home made molds to the store bought ones.  

My sisters and I didn't appreciate his efforts, when it came to these metal molds, so we threw them away when we cleaned out her kitchen. 

The pressure cooker instruction booklet will tell you to cover the mold securely with aluminum foil, like this

Mamina would cover hers with wax paper and tie it with a string. I was called many times to put a finger on the string so she could knot it securely. I didn't have string this time, so I used a shoe lace. 

Then she would trim the wax paper. Yup, she really did. I asked her why a couple of times, but she changed the subject and did not answer. I think she just liked things to be neat. 


Pour a cup of water in the pressure cooker and set the mold on the trivet. By the way, my cousin MaConcha, who is a terrific cook, does not even cover her mold, so don't worry too much that it has to be perfectly sealed. 

Put the lid on your pressure cooker securely and heat on high until steam scapes from the little chimney (or vent pipe), then put the little pressure regulator on it. Or put the pressure regulator on from the beginning. 

I was hoping you could see the steam in the picture...

If you are using a canning pressure cooker, one of those that has a pressure gage, bring to 15 lbs of pressure. Otherwise wait till the pressure regulator is rocking to start counting the time. Turn heat down to medium and cook for 15 minutes. Let the pressure cooker cool and all the pressure dissipate before you take the lid or even the pressure regulator off. 

Or you can cook it for 20 minutes, and cool it under running water immediately and completely (you will hear the pressure escape).

Then you can take the lid off. It's going to be very hot, so be careful taking the mold out of the pressure cooker.  Chill before you take the Pudin or Flan out of the mold. Let it cool it if it's a cake. 

Thank you for this request, Tamara! 

Here are some yummy desserts that were made in the pressure cooker

Pudin de Pan

Pudin de Pan

Cake de Naranja

PEPINOS Y TOMATES-Cucumbers & Tomatoes

My sisters and I owe our parents not only for our lives, but also for our freedom. It wasn’t until I reached the age my parents were when we left Cuba, (mid 40's) that I began to appreciate the magnitude of their sacrifice.  They left their home, possessions, friends, family, and the country of their birth, to start over as exiles in a place where they didn’t even speak the language. 
            For something much more valuable, FREEDOM…for their children…for me. 
Once in this great country my parents worked hard at factory jobs and prospered far beyond anything they could have accomplished in Castro’s communist Cuba.  They taught my sisters and me the value of hard work, education, family and most of all freedom. We, like countless others, have lived the American Dream.  

I guess that is why I cringe as I notice the erosion of liberty going on in our society. Many well meaning entities wanting to tell us even something so basic as what we should eat and drink. Let us learn, even educate one another and then make our own choices!

But getting the information we need is not always easy, for example some of us might not want to eat genetically modified food. Fifty other countries label it as such, but not yet the US. California is trying to remedy that with Proposition 37, the  California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act 

which will require that genetically engineered food be labeled, so that we have the freedom to choose wether we want to buy it or not. I think the companies fighting this are afraid of what the consumers will choose. If it passes in California, it will benefit the rest of the country. You can learn more about it  HERE

This recipe will have you making some choices, since it is not very exact...but it is delicious! I will give you the recipe for a normal size cucumber (I used a giant one this last time), but it's all very much to taste. This is the way my mother always cooked, and I do take after her in that respect.

PEPINOS Y TOMATES-Cucumbers & Tomatoes

1 cucumber
3-4 tomatoes
3-4 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Salt 
Pepper to taste

Wash, peel and cube the cucumber, wash and cut up the tomatoes. Mix them together until it looks like you have about the same amount of each and it looks pretty. 

Pour the apple cider vinegar over the cucumbers and tomatoes, these measurements are estimates because and I never measure it,  I just pour some good quality vinegar over it till it looks like enough, and then I taste it.

Then I pour a little less olive oil  then the amount of vinegar over the vegetables. Again, the quality of oil will make a difference, use the best you can afford. 

Sprinkle with sea salt or Real Salt and grind some fresh pepper over it. Stir and taste. Add more of what ever as needed. You want it to be kind of vinegary and salty. 

Two types of tomatoes and a very large cucumber my niece Michelle gave me


I am loving this extended summer we are having in Utah! It's in the 70-80's and my garden is still producing wonderful tomatoes, zucchini, swiss chard, etc.

When my parents came to live with us in Utah, summer became my father's favorite time of the year and not just because he hated  cold weather. He loved to grow food and I loved gardening with him. Papillo did the hard work and I helped. It has not been the same gardening on my own, and I'm not as dedicated to daily watering, etc, so I don't get quite the same results, but I feel him close anytime I'm out in the garden.

There was sometimes a battle between my parents because Mamina wanted to grow roses and Papillo wanted to grow vegetables. When they came to live with us I gave Mamina an area of the yard for her roses, on the South side with plenty of sun. Papillo bought her a new rose bush each year for Mother's day, and they planted it together.

Mamina among her beloved roses

Her rose garden turned out to be the best spot in the yard, and after a while Papillo and I began to covet her prime garden spot, and  tried to convince her to let us have it for growing vegetables. She was immune to our persuasive efforts, so I made do in a shady spot and he planted other gardens in our neighbors' yards. One year  Papillo planted garlic among Mamina's roses. She was not happy but the roses loved it, and the garlic continued to come up for several years. 

I have now planted raspberries that I got from Nina right among the roses and installed a small grow box right in the middle of the roses. It's crowded, random and a bit crazy, but quite effective. 

My garden now

 Here is a recipe I still look forward to making and eating each year. The only thing Cuban about it is that my father made it often, with herbs from our garden. He learned to make it from a Chilean friend of Italian ancestry. He usually left out the nuts, since he “didn’t think they agreed with him” and it was still delicious.


1 lb fresh basil leaves
1 lb fresh parsley leaves (not stalks) 
5-6 cloves garlic
2 cups nuts (pine nuts, walnuts or almonds)-OPTIONAL
2-3 teaspoons sea salt (to taste)
3 Tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 cup olive oil

Wash and drain basil and parsley. Put in food processor; add pealed garlic cloves, nuts, salt, and parmesan cheese. Add oil a bit at a time as you process everything to a creamy consistency. 

This is great on pasta or even crackers. Pine nuts are traditionally used, but I actually like it better with walnuts or even almonds.

Store in a glass jar, and pour a thin layer of olive oil on the top, to keep from drying or oxidizing. It will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks or frozen for several months. 


My sister Isis and I attended Catholic school in Cuba for a short time, because Fidel expelled all the nuns and most of the priest early in his tyranny. Mamina then taught us at home, to avoid exposing us to the intense Communist indoctrination that was carried out  in the schools.  

Ready for School
 As the regime became more repressive, we were forced to  attend public school.  Isis was 7 and I was 8.  For the next five years we were taught well, especially about the evils of Capitalism and the advantages of Communism.

By the time our little sister Nina was old enough for school, we had been trying to leave Cuba for about 6 years, and there was no way of knowing when or if we would finally be allowed to leave. Somehow my mother arranged for her to begin with first grade rather than kindergarten, “this way she will learn to read before we leave Cuba”, she hopefully told my father.

It was early in the school year, the teachers had begun teaching the little children about the “fallacies of religion”, the “Opium of the masses”, and how ridiculous it was to believe in God.   The children were taught that the only thing that one could depend on to take care of us in life, was "el govierno", the State.  

            The little kids didn't understand a whole lot of what was being said to them.  But the teachers/government representatives had a very effective way to teach this lesson. First they asked the children, “Do you like ice cream?”  Of course they did.  They were told, “Why don't you bow your heads and pray to God to give you some ice cream”.  All the little children did as they were bidden.  They bowed their heads and prayed for ice cream.  When they raised their heads the teachers pointed out that there was no ice cream anywhere to be had.  

            Next they were told, “Why don't you try it again.  This time when you bow your heads, pray that Fidel will send you ice cream”. 

            The children obediently bowed their heads once again, and prayed to the "Maximum Leader of the Grand Communist State" for ice cream. When they raised their heads there was a small cardboard container of ice cream on each of their desks.

I still don’t like ice cream in small cardboard containers, and I am so grateful that we were able to escape Communism and that we get to live in a country where  freedom and religion are still valued. 

Here is a simple recipe that reminds me of the sweetness of life. 

HELADO DE CARAMELO- Caramel ice cream 
Makes about 1 ½ quarts

1 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon of water
5 cups warm milk, half and half, or cream. Depending on how
   creamy you want it.
Dash of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Put the sugar and water in a pan and melt it very slowly, (on low) so as not to burn it. 

As soon as the sugar is liquid and golden colored, add the milk and salt, mix well. Warm milk will mix better with the melted sugar caramel. If  you use cold milk, the caramel will harden, and you will have to heat the hardened sugar and milk on the stove on medium, and stir and stir until it dissolves. 

Once it is mixed well, add vanilla. Pour the mixture into a 2 quart ice cream maker and process according to your ice cream maker's directions. 

If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can do what Mamina did,  pour the mixture into ice cube trays . It made delicious, rectangular pieces of crunchy ice cream. Kind of hard, but so refreshing!