This is a blog for people to discuss what they are eating. There is a theory that by journaling eating habits, people will eat healthier. I am trying to cook more at home and feed my family a wider variety of foods. People can just read or join as co-authors. Topics don't have to be recipes with nice photos. You can write about eating habits, special diets, culinary cultural differences, etc.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Growing up Rican

Map of Puerto Rico - all following ©unknown.. I got them from
I'm first generation "American". I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. My parents from Puerto Rico (Mom from the Mayagüez area (West of the Island) and Dad from Juncos (East side of the Island (just east of Caguas on the map). I went to school in Caguas (11th grade) during my parents divorce back in the late 1980's. Although I grew up here.. I was still firmly entrenched in the Puerto Rican culture. For all intents and purposes I thought I grew up "normal American". It's only after years of comparison with other people who grew up in this country did I realize how different I grew up. Everything from what I listened to in music, to ate every day for food. Even our living arrangements were strange. I've moved 22 times in my life.. not too far but still moved a lot. During those times it was with 3 generations living at home. My Mom's Mom (whom we always call Mamá - maternal grandmothers are giving that name while paternal grandmother's are given "Abuela" - which literally means "grandmother") lived with us during the late spring - early Fall every year. It was during the colder months where she'd run back to my other Aunt's house in Puerto Rico since she just could not tolerate the winter months anymore. During those times she lived with us she shaped a lot of what I know today as my "style" of cooking.

A painting on the side of a building "HERE we sell PORK 100% from the "country" or to say homegrown or even "island bred". And yes they mean the WHOLE pork on a spit..

My Grandmom raised my sisters and I VERY different from my Mom. Without going into extreme detail she changed how she viewed children in the kitchen. In Puerto Rico you have only one person in the kitchen (unless it's a large holiday gathering and you need the manpower to create so many meals).. Unless you wanted to get hacked by a machete.. you did not go into the woman's realm... Unfortunately, Mom didn't get the benefit of learning from her Mom how to cook and since she was on her own very early in her life she had to learn almost painfully. If ya know me by now.. I'm inquisitive.. well I was just like that as a kid. Half the time I swear Mamá was just keeping me in the kitchen just so I won't get in trouble outside beating up kids.. From there I learned a lot about Puerto Rican Cuisine and Spanish Cuisine (Mamá is Spaniard). She was the mother of all inventions. We grew up dirt poor and had to improvise a LOT to get food on the table. I learned how to improvise with 3 things in the pantry LOL. As any good Puerto Rican family though.. we always had rice. And.. even though we lived in the inner city.. we always had some sort of garden. Lord help us if we couldn't get sofrito done.. the world would end..

Long live mangoes.. food of the Gods I swear... Fruit is a huge part of our diet

My oldest sister also had a very large role in my life when it came to not only cooking but even upbringing. Mom always came home late so it was my sisters who raised me during the months Mamá was on the Island. Dad was the disciplinarian.. we didn't exactly get along all that hot. He did however make sure we knew how to cook. You would know a man's wrath if the man doesn't have his rice and beans.. Being by far the youngest (I'm 7 years younger than my oldest sis and 3 1/2 years younger than my middle sis) I benefited not only education wise (my sisters taught me everything they learned in school so I could read and write (in 2 languages) by the age of 3) and taught me how to cook (by the age of 4 on my own). Going back and forth from the US to Puerto Rico (we visited a LOT.. it's sorta a Rican tradition.. even if we didn't have the money... we HAD to go back to the Island.. almost like getting air to breathe long enough to go back to the US and hold our breath).

Pasteles (recipe here).. pain in the nards to make.. usually people do this as a massive Christmas-time project.. imagine 40 people (including kids) making several hundred of these.. mmmmmmm I love them.

Food in Puerto Rico is a form of social networking. People practically judge how good of a host you are by the amount of food you serve... and trust me we are not talking about chips and salsa and a glass of water.. we are talking about full course meals. Not hungry? THEY DON'T CARE! Anyway.. food holidays.. nothing and I mean absolutely nothing beats the Christmas Holidays. We don't even celebrate Thanksgiving.. that's a speed bump to Christmas. The first time I ate a "Thanksgiving turkey" was over a "white person's house" when I was a teenager. I didn't even know what Roasted turkey tasted like until I had that meal (and I thought I died and went to heaven.. though I admit.. I hate cranberry sauce..). What is common in Puerto Rico from about Thanksgiving all the way to Three Kings Day is something called Parrandas. Unlike what the wiki says.. it's an all out excuse for partying in the wee hours of the morning with neighbors. How it works is that a group of people carrying musical instruments go to a house (not designated.. they decide that night) and camp out in front of that house singing songs that kinda go "WAKE UP AND MAKE ME FOOD" and in return they will serenade you. If you did this in the USA.. you'd be promptly shot and the Police called for disruption of the peace.. most of this stuff starts around 10PM and can go on to 4-5 AM (depending on how many people fell asleep from the liquor and over eating)...

Minus the beans I'd totally go for this.. (L-R), Pastelillos (IMO doughier than an empanada), Rice and Beans (red kidney beans), tossed salad and .. I think that's stuffed peppers of some kind. Definitely a meat mixture on something..

Cooking during the holidays was a lot of work. Between all the unexpected guests (the idea of R.S.V.P. is so foreign to them.. knocking on your door is R.S.V.P. to them.. seriously..) and the expected parranda drop in .. many people on the Island did most of their cooking in advance. Doing Pasteles was a big chore so when people came over the head women in the household would take advantage and put EVERYONE to work. Make the men go out and climb trees to get the banana leaves and have the kids grind the plantains for the base of the patty. Everyone else was dicing ingredients or cooking the mixture or finding someplace to assemble the whole friggin' thing.

Couldn't find a wiki thing for this.. but it's meat stuffed ripened plaintains (platanos madúros).. mmmm...

Baking was always left to the professionals. I don't ever remember anyone outright using an oven for cooking (usually it was storage for all the pots you couldn't find a spot for earlier..).. There were the panaderías (bread bakeries) and the pastelerías (pastry bakeries). Each had their own clientele but man EVERYONE used a panadería. Funny story.. whenever anyone who now lives in the USA goes "home" we all go from the airport to some bakery.. for bread.. a whole friggin' loaf of bread. It reminds us of French Bread but a whoooooooooole lot better. My Aunt (Dad's sister - the one I lived with) finally had enough of the mystery and in exasperation asked "wtf is up with the bread you friggin' Yankees.. you don't HAVE bread in your country???".. (obviously paraphrased :p ) and we'd all go "nope not like this".. we finally figured out. it's a different yeast.. the outside is this really thin crunchy coat and the inside is so soft it melts in your mouth.. Dad would just haul out and get a loaf for him and me with just a little bit if melted butter in it. We'd eat it in the car from the airport :) My uncle always got a loaf of bread daily from the bakery.. when I lived there.. they had to get 2 loaves.. I was quite the hog.. what did I use it for? SANGUICHES....

THIS is a sanguich.. a wha??? Sandwich.. yep.. Friggin' ricans have to americanize words.. this I think is a simple ham and cheese sanguich (check out the bread.. THAT is the loaf I'm talking about..) I made sandwiches of everything if I could.. still do..

Religion also has a funny way of getting into food :p I grew up evangelical Christian but when I lived with my Aunt she was Roman Catholic. They had fundraisers for everything and I swear everything was always a food sale. No one did bake sales.. they did food. One of the things they sold were Pastelillos.. I've mentioned them before.. but they are to die for.. Empanadas are altogether different.. the picture below is an actual Pastelillo..

I haven't had a REAL pastelillo of these in about.. hmm.. 15 years? Oh I miss these so...

When I did fundraising events in this country I'd laugh because I'd inevitably run into another Rican and we'd smile.. both going "we'd make a killing if we can make this into a bacalaito (fritters made with codfish pieces) sale" LMAO THAT was a typical cheap dish to make and sell for fundraisers on the island. Fish in general is big in Puerto Rico.. after all it's an island only 100 miles by 30 miles.. that's a lot of coastline..

Parting dish.. I .. love. Tostones......

All in all despite my unhappy childhood I do cherish a LOT of wonderful memories when it comes to food. Food done right or with a group of family members all chatting is like comfort to me. These days living alone while hubby works I think of what I can do to relive those moments. Even here some of my happy moments are cooking with hubby. He's a fantastic cook and I learn a lot from him. Lately I've been finding more and more recipes that remind me of my upbringing. Being a good husband he eats everything :) I like that.

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Blogger chaki said...

OMG, this is the best blog entry I've ever read. Read it once just to enjoy it. It's culture through cuisine and I felt I've just visited Puerto Rico. Not interested in the New York restaurants, must one day get to the island!! The second time I read it, did all the links. How and what we eat says so much about who we are.

Hate to get all adminny on you but the title of the section is Food for Thought (My first title just ended up being Soup for Thought...) Could you change it so it gets archived properly? Thanks.

November 10, 2008 at 2:28 AM

Blogger Arsenette said...

Hmm changed the title but the article stayed the same. I did use the tags so it might actually archive correctly. If it doesn't I can copy and repaste it as a new entry :)

Glad you enjoyed it LOL I was typing this while emailing last night.

November 10, 2008 at 9:37 AM

Blogger Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Oh Lord, Elsie!!! I do love your native cuisine. Your post made me miss Florida, and not much can do that. :) I have had nearly all of those things you posted about and I LOVE them. Never had those stuffed plantains, but they look yummy.
Is the bread near to what the Cuban bread is like? I used a Cuban bakery when I lived in FL and yeah... I could easily go thru a loaf by myself. Loved that. Kroger sells a thing they call cuban bread, but nah... it's not the same thing AT ALL.
Thank you so much for the pictures.

November 10, 2008 at 4:27 PM

Blogger Arsenette said...

Honestly not sure if it is close or note but out of all the Latin Countries Cuban food is REAL close to ours in terms of tastes. Hmm.. I must might have to find a cuban bakery and do the research.. yeah.. research.. LOL

November 10, 2008 at 4:34 PM

Blogger Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Research, yeah... good idea. :) It looks real close to the same. Cuban is a long loaf, flatter than an Italian loaf with a very slight sweetness to it. And the chewiness... I love that.

November 10, 2008 at 4:52 PM

Blogger Arsenette said...

Oh sounds like winner.. that's about it. It's the crust I adore.. it's not so hard like some french breads where I swear it's going to break my teeth.. it's like a "crunchy" thin coat and the inside is sweet. I used to just eat it in the car (butter or no butter) to looks of "crap we should have gotten another loaf..." I think the only difference would be that it's not terribly long by comparison.. not a short roll but just "normal".

November 10, 2008 at 5:00 PM

Blogger Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Elsie, Thomas and I both have decided that we want to make the pastelillos. They look delicious. But then again, anything with fried dough is usually terrific. :)

November 10, 2008 at 8:06 PM

Blogger Arsenette said...

Teheheheheh :)

Pastelillos recipes are harder to come by .. some people use empanadillas or empanadas. The difference between them is actually simple. Less meat filling and no potatoes in Empanadas (some area even pizza style just sauce and cheese) while pastelillos have a stronger taste in the filling but not a lot of it since it's mostly dough. Easiest to spot would be the empanadas or empanadillas since all you see is the ends tied right at the edge.. pastelillos look like a fried dough with a bump out where the meat and potato mixture is :) Going to see if I can find a recipe for ya :)

November 10, 2008 at 8:10 PM

Blogger Arsenette said...

Meh.. I keep finding empanadas but they are close enough if you want to try them.. might have to try to bogart a recipe from somewhere.. most REAL recipes are held under lock and key (if ever written) and done by some woman who's like 95 and taking her secret to the grave type deal.. You know what I mean? LOL

K this is if you want to bother doing the dough yourself:

(see the similarities between them but then you see wtf are they doing changes? yeah.. me too)

This is if you have acess to goya stuff and want use their disks instead of making the dough:
(this one has cute pictures)

November 10, 2008 at 8:24 PM

Blogger Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Hahaha... Thomas and I both feel that the more dough the better. We both love dough, bready things, starchy stuff. Stuff that I'm not supposed to eat much of... Do you ever do the Mexican thing with the fried dough? When it puffs up you take it out of the oil and drain briefly then you bite off a corner and pour warm honey into the hollow center and then eat it. Lord! It's so simple, but so beautiful. You can even get away with using canned dough, like Pillsbury Crecent rolls. Just cut them into small triangles and fry them in clean oil. Works like a charm. Easy way to start teaching your kids (or a friend) how to deep fry without burning themselves or the house. Do you guys do a thing like that? I only ever have them when we go to New Mexico and eat out there. Or... when I make them at home, myself.

November 10, 2008 at 8:28 PM

Blogger Some Kinda Wonderful said...

thank goodness my grocery store is beginning to carry more Goya brand items than they used to. They are a good brand for quality foodstuff if you have to purchase some things pre-made. I have even been known to purchase their frozen fried ripe plantains when I start to jonesin' for them. Better than buying the fresh ones up here. Kroger will sell plantains and yucca root, but it's never good quality. Buying frozen from a reputable company is usually safer.

November 10, 2008 at 8:45 PM

Blogger Arsenette said...

I haven't yet though I make our own funnel cake from a cool recipe we found. Churros was the other closest that we ever to just "fried dough":

November 11, 2008 at 9:06 AM

Blogger Some Kinda Wonderful said...

Ah... here's a sopapilla:

They are hollow and you bite off a corner and then pour warm honey in them. Or I've seen them in restaurants with fruit flavored syrups, but honey is best. The one's in that picture look like they are covered in cinnamon sugar, which is perfectly fine. I love cinnamon. :)

November 11, 2008 at 9:21 AM

Blogger Arsenette said...

I've eaten those in Don Pablos:

The only difference is that they are swimming in a butter brandy sauce.. mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm I think the only sprinkling I saw was just a basic powdered sugar. I'm particular about how much cinamin is in things.

November 11, 2008 at 9:28 AM


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