Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Malanga in the Country

A picture from our idyllic, rural weekend.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Malanga Fiesta (Happy 2nd Birthday!)

The birthday parties of my childhood are a blur of piñatas (what I remember is the moment of panic as seemingly hundreds of children crushed down on me in a rush to get to the candy on the floor), freezer pops and frilly party dresses with matching panties underneath. These weren't just my parties, but those celebrating the birthdays of cousins and friends whose parents were so close with my parents that we called each other "cousins" as well. Somewhere there are pictures around of all of us Cuban kids from Philadelphia standing around with our hairbows and black-patent-leather Mary Janes, all lined up behind the birthday child blowing out the candles on his or her cake. And when I find them, I will try to post one or two on this blog or somewhere on the internet to amuse or embarrass the kids shown there who are all grown up now and doing fabulous things with their lives.

In the meantime, the one tangible thing I have to evoke the mass chaos of those parties, and I say mass chaos in the most positive sense, is the taste of the bocaditos that seemed to be ubiquitous party fare. These are simple enough to prepare, yet for some reason I hadn't made them in years. I knew, without a doubt, that I had to serve the bocaditos at Malanga Baby's second birthday party, a mass chaos affair of its own that involved 15 toddlers running around my living room. The rest of the menu, however, was something that I pondered long and hard. I had to make enough food to feed 15 toddlers and their parents late enough in the day to be practically dinner time. Here's what I came up with:

- Assorted sandwiches ("Cuban birthday party" sandwiches and PBJ)
- Tortilla Española (I made four of them and Malanga Baby even helped)
- Swedish Meatballs in the crockpot (this recipe made about forty meatballs)
- Audrey's Tortellini Salad

Plus, I had loads of:

- Peanut-butter-filled pretzels
- Earth's Best Letter of the Day Cookies
- Mediterranean Snack Food Co. brand Baked Lentil Chips & Hummus
- Blue Corn Tortilla Chips & Salsa

And in honor of the birthday girl:

- A very large ice cream cake

My cousin Raquel baked brownies, too. I considered making this cornbread recipe, which I made and served at Malanga Baby's first birthday party last year, but I seemed to have enough food with the above.

There was no piñata. Maybe next year.


Cuban Birthday Party bocaditos


1 can deviled ham
1 8 oz. package cream cheese (spreadable works best)


Mix deviled ham and cream cheese together.
Spread on white bread.
Cut off crusts.
Cut into triangles and serve.

(I highly recommend putting them in the fridge if you prepare them way ahead of time.)

Tortilla Española

Ingredients (for 3-4 tortillas)

3 potatoes
2 medium yellow onions or 1 large Spanish onion
Fresh parsley
Eggs, approx. 3-4 per tortilla
Garlic powder
Olive oil (for frying)
A plate about the size of a small frying pan (for flipping the tortilla)


(This one is trickier to explain because the real success of any tortilla depends on the egg-to-potato ratio and the ability to flip the tortilla successfully.)

Cut potatoes into cubes. Chop onions. Chop parsley.

Pour olive oil into pan. (I like to put in a lot, enough for the potatoes to be basically immersed. It seems to work better for me this way, then I pour off the excess later in the process.)

Throw potatoes into pan, enough to cover most of a small frying pan. Fry them for about 7-10 minutes on low heat, until they become softened, but not crispy on the outside. Add onions, fry for another few minutes until onions become soft.

While potatoes & onions are frying, beat 3-4 eggs in a bowl with a pinch of cumin, a pinch of garlic powder and a dash of salt. Add some of the chopped parsley.

Pour egg mix into the frying pan. Fry for a few minutes (this is really depending on how hot the pan has gotten, if you make 4 tortillas in a row like I did, everything starts cooking much more quickly as you go on.) Check to make sure the underside is cooked by inserting a wooden spoon around the sides.

Take pan over to sink (REALLY, if you have a disaster, you want to be over the sink, not the stove), place plate on top of frying pan and flip as quickly as you possibly can before slipping the flipped tortilla back into the pan.

Return frying pan to stove/flame and cook for another few minutes.

Slide out onto a clean plate to serve and slice like a checkerboard, inserting toothpicks in random different cubes of tortilla.

Audrey's Tortellini Salad

My cousin Audrey came up with this one years ago and I fell in love on the spot.


1 can black beans (make sure they say "Listos para Comer," meaning you don't have to cook or season them)
3 plum tomatoes or 1 box grape tomatoes
Small bag frozen corn- cooked
1 package frozen spinach- cooked
2-3 small bags of tortellini

For dressing:
Balsamic vinegar
Regular vinegar
Olive Oil
Vegetable Oil
A little bit of Mojo Criollo (a marinade available in the Latin groceries aisle)
1/2 big white onion
big scoop of sugar
Salt, pepper & oregano to taste


Make dressing in the blender, using 3x more vinegar than oil.
Toss with other ingredients.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Sweet Life Is...

Malanga Toddler grew to love both ice cream and flan during our recent trip to Cuba. Lucky for her that it's already ice cream season in New York.

As for the flan, there are tons of great places to have some in our neighborhood (Cafe Salamanca and Pio Pio come to mind). However, I wanted to find a less sugary, but just as yummy, treat for Malanga Toddler to have at home. I was thrilled to come across this recipe in Lisa Barnes' "The Petit Appetit" cookbook. Everyone in the family enjoyed this one and it's so easy that I'll definitely be making it again.

Baked Ricotta Cake (Lisa Barnes)


1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
2 cage-free organic egg whites
4 tablespoons honey
2 cups mixed fresh organic berries (optional)


-Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the cheese in a bowl and break up with a wooden spoon. Beat egg whites in a small bowl until soft peaks form. Add eggs, whites and honey to cheese and mix thoroughly until smooth.

- Lightly grease 4 ramekins. Spoon ricotta mixture into ramekins. Bakc for 30-35 minutes, or until cakes are risen and golden.

- Cool, turn out of ramekin, and top with berries, if desired.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Malanga Baby Goes to Cuba

There is no way to easily summarize the whole experience of taking Malanga Baby to the homeland. Malanga Mama is still a little overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude that this trip came together with relative ease so that Malanga Baby could meet her Tia Ali for the first time. While I continue to process how AMAZING it was to be able to give both my daughter and my sister this gift, let's focus on the specifics of traveling with an active toddler off the beaten path.

Cuba poses a few challenges to even the most seasoned traveler. The first is the chronic shortages faced by a country cut off from Soviet aid for nearly two decades now and still subject to the US embargo. While the black market economy is thriving, and while there are a few upscale shops designated exclusively for tourists, it would be foolhardy to think anything you need toddler-wise can be obtained if you're willing to pay enough or go through enough effort. Oh, yes, I did see a pack of 8 disposable diapers for $15 in a glass case near Havana's Plaza de Armas, but did they have them available in Malanga Baby's size? Not a chance. I also spent one rainy, miserable afternoon visiting seven different grocery shops in search of a stick of butter after Malanga Baby licked the last of my sister's butter off a cracker the night before and then immediately asked for more. I will never again take butter for granted (or eggs, which were also notoriously hard to find).

The second challenge is that it can be difficult, if not impossible, to come by ready-made or snack food while one is out and about. There are restaurants, but they require time and patience while the food is prepared. (In some cases, your patience will also be tested by the waiter telling you absolutely everything you just tried to order from the menu is not available that day and that, in reality, there is really just one dish you can have.) As such, it is prudent for any parent to always, always, always pack several snacks for daylong outings. And, given the shortages referenced above, don't assume you can stock up on said snacks at a local grocery store when you arrive in Havana. Unless, of course, you don't mind your child eating nothing but potato chips and strawberry-cream-filled cookies during your entire stay, since this was the extent of the snack food I saw available at local grocery stores. Even fruit was in rare supply. (I know, I know, how is this possible in a Caribbean country? I have no idea. But I hear from other friends that if you stay in a five-star hotel, you have your choice of fresh fruit from gleaming platters every morning at the breakfast buffet. Perhaps this is where all the country's fruit goes?)

Challenge number three is that if you're American, even if you are traveling to Cuba legally (as we were), you cannot use credit cards or access your US bank accounts via an ATM card while in Cuba. So, even assuming you were willing to shell out the $15 for 8 precious disposable diapers referenced above, isn't it easier just to pack the things you absolutely know you will need and use in Cuba and save your limited cash for anything else that might come up? Here's where my master packing lists come in.

I made three different extensive packing lists while preparing for the trip to Cuba.

List one- items to take to my family

I will not post the full list here, but highlights of it will give you a sense of things that are difficult to find in Cuba that you might want to take for yourself.

Throat lozenges/cold remedies

List two- baby gear/big items

Passports/visas/notarized letters (if you are traveling with your child but not with the child's mother or father, you need a notarized letter stating the other person is aware of the trip)

Diapers (I took about 50 for 7 days)

Wipes (I took 150)


Teething remedies (Hyland's teething tablets travel exceptionally well)

Infant Tylenol & Infant Motrin

Gentle Naturals Tummy soother


Diaper rash cream

Hand sanitizer

Bodywash & shampoo

Toddler toothbrush & toothpaste

Sun hat

Sippy cups

Plastic plate to eat (I like IKEA plates, they are very flat and easy to pack, I always have one in my diaper bag for eating out)

Tupperware or small bowl with lid (for snacks or leftovers- restaurants in Cuba will often just give you leftover food in a plastic bag)

Clothing, including pj's

Toys & books (I am sad to report I didn't find any good toddler books at Havana's main bookstores)

Ergo or other sling/carrier (I preferred this to a stroller since Havana's streets are not uniformly paved, but you might want to bring your own stroller in addition)

Car seat *see note below*

Also, I wish I had brought something for heat rash.

List three- food/snacks

Gatorade/pedialyte (in case of diarreah/vomiting)

Materne Gogo Squeez Applesauce pouches (3)

Peanut butter crackers & Cheese crackers (8 packs)

Cheddar bunnies (in the small, individual packets, avail. in boxes of 6)

Back to Nature Honey graham sticks (also in small, individual packets)

Raisins & other dried fruit

Happy Baby yogurt melts (2 packs)

Cereal bars/granola bars

Whole Foods 365 brand peach bits in pear juice (4)

Gerber Infant pear juice (for constipation)

Rice cakes (for flight, in diaper bag, not checked luggage)

Mini cereal boxes (2)

Horizon boxed milk (or you could bring powdered milk)

A final note: car seats are not required by law, not used at all by the general population and not compatible with cars lacking seat belts in the back (which is the majority of cars on the road in Cuba). If you find yourself a bit squeamish about your small child riding here and there on your lap, know that you will have to both pack your own car seat for the trip and either rent a car or hire a driver that is known to have seat belts in the back. Do NOT assume that all taxi cabs have seat belts in the back.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Malanga prefers...

I made a beautiful, tulip-shaped pancake for Malanga Baby, complete with little dabs of blueberry-flavored syrup, but she preferred to eat the huge, messy "mistake" pancake that leaked out of the tulip mold. Moments like these are a good reality check. She wants more time to eat and play, less time with Malanga Mama in the kitchen!

All those pancake carbs are fueling a little yogini in training. Malanga Baby has really taken a shine to the toddler yoga classes we started casually dropping in on a few months ago. In the last month or so, we've gone more consistently since she really loves the time we spend at the studio. At home, she rolls out my yoga mat to practice her downward dog. She also does a mean tree pose (but doesn't stay in it long enough for me to take a good picture).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Perfect New York Day

Kevin Bacon said hi to Malanga Baby today when he sat down next to us at City Bakery. This is yet another reason I love City Bakery, a great spot to pop in for their yummy baked goods, fantastic baked mac & cheese, and the toy kitchen tucked under the stairs next to the high chairs. In fact, a friend of mine and I planned an entire day out today around the prospect of a visit to City Bakery so our children could play with the toy kitchen and we could relax and chat over coffee. Kevin Bacon was a bonus.

We also hit Books of Wonder, where just about every volume on the shelves makes me swoon. They have a pretty decent foreign language section (which includes a version of Ian Falconer's Olivia entirely in Latin), but it's their English language book selection I love the most. Last time there, I picked up a copy of Eloise in Moscow, which I proceeded to read right away sitting in the bookstore's "Cupcake Cafe" while munching on a cupcake. I realize Malanga Baby is still too young for the Eloise books, that purchase was entirely for me. Today, I had to stop myself from buying yet another book Malanga Baby isn't quite ready for: Fancy Nancy's Favorite Fancy Words. I paged through it and fell in love on the spot. It listed "dapper" as one of the words! (I couldn't resist inserting the picture here of the dapper man street-crossing sign I saw in Madeira while 3 months pregnant with Malanga Baby.)

Once we finally made our way home after a few other stops, I got down to the business of making a quick dinner for me and Malanga Baby. I saw a recipe for Balsamic-Glazed Lamb Meatloaf in Real Simple magazine this month and am happy to report that it was just as easy to make as it seemed. I modified the recipe a bit, serving it with steamed broccoli and carrots instead of cannellini beans, but the meatloaf itself was delicious. Malanga Baby was quite happy with her dinner. Here's how to make the meatloaf:

2 slices white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 pound ground lamb
1 large egg
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
kosher salt and black pepper
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar


1. Heat oven to 400° F. In a large bowl, combine the bread and 3 tablespoons water. Add the lamb, egg, garlic, thyme, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
2. Place the mixture on a foil-lined baking sheet and shape into a 6-inch loaf (about 3 inches thick). Bake, brushing with the balsamic vinegar several times during cooking, until a thermometer inserted in the center registers 150° F, 30 to 35 minutes. Let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Reyes Came to Town...

There was no Three Kings' Parade in Brooklyn this year, but we celebrated "El Dia de los Reyes Magos" today anyway. There are so many traditions associated with this day, including leaving grass out for the kings' camels the night before and eating a Roscon de Reyes, but until Malanga Baby is old enough to understand that, it's only about getting more presents. She certainly knows how to rip wrapping paper off of boxes like a professional.

Speaking of Brooklyn, however, if you're a parent in the area looking for resources on raising a bilingual child, be sure to check out the upcoming fair that takes place Sunday, January 10.