It was a normal winter morning and my dog Maya and I went on our walk together. We discovered the neighbor’s horses close to the road. We stopped and quietly watched them, allowing ourselves to share space and time with such beautiful creatures. It is a moment like this that turns a normal winter walk into a magical winter walk.
Last Friday I went to Trader Joe’s to buy goodies for my “Super Bowl” party tonight, January 25th. My husband is in Florida visiting his parents and sister so I thought it would be fun to celebrate the Super Bowl with my children. I stocked up on piggies in a blanket, mushroom turnovers, mozzarella sticks, Chinese dumplings, and some chips and dips. We have a blackboard in our kitchen where we post the date, menu, quote, and commentaries around special events or celebrations. Earlier in the day I had updated today’s Super Bowl day information.
Some time in the afternoon my son said, “The Super Bowl is not tonight, it’s next Sunday”. And I responded with, “What?!?!?” So after a good laugh at my continued lack of football knowledge, I ran to the board to make some adjustments. The menu was kept the same because it was too late to come up with something different but we freshened up other parts of the board.
Happy “Practice” Super Bowl Party!! After a very successful finger food practice party, we feel we are ready and in excellent shape for next week’s big event. Call it a first down or maybe just a fumble, I better go back to the playbook or more like the “Football for Dummies” book before the ref yells at me and calls it an illegal procedure. Go New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks! (At least I know who is in the Super Bowl!) It’s the spirit that counts!
Last night, my daughter and I were laughing while reminiscing about something that happened to her when she was 1½ years old. The year was 2001 and my husband, children, and I were living in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My in-laws had come to visit and we thought “Wouldn’t it be lovely to take my mother-in-law out on a boat ”. We knew my father-in-law would not join us because of his motion sickness. Anyway, we set sail on a warm, humid, overcast day, on a beautiful “clean” sailboat on the waters of the Bay of Banderas. And like most parents do, I packed snacks for our excursion.
Now, when we go back and look at some of the photographs of the trip we realize how much my daughter took a liking to “las papitas”, the potato chips that I packed. So much so, that she is either holding a chip in every picture, or has her hand in the bag of chips, or is pointing to the bag asking for more.
Ah this blissful moment…
I’m living in the moment with the sea breeze blowing through my hair, the smell of sea salt in the air, the sound of the sails flapping in the wind, the view of the bow carving through the water, the dolphins jumping in the distance…This blissful moment would be abruptly interrupted by the explosive projectile vomiting sounds of the tiniest person on board. Yep, all those potato chips my sweet daughter had shoved down her cute little mouth would resurface and cover the deck of this very “clean” boat. In a frenzy, and probably saying something like “Ay, dios mio!, I started pulling out baby wipes and trying to clean the very smelly mess while fighting my gag reflex. I was so grateful because the boat crew appeared unflappable. They jumped into action to help me clean saying “Tranquila, no se preocupe”, “Relax, don’t worry”. It was kind of hard to relax after that but the good news was that my daughter had seemed unfazed throughout the whole episode and was probably feeling good enough to have a couple more “papitas”.
Funny how there are no pictures of our boating excursion after that point in time. I think I was probably traumatized and just wanted to get back to shore for a margarita. But the few photos that we took were enough to seal the memories in forever and give us plenty of material to make us laugh.
So this whole story came up again last night and we laughed all over again. At the end of the story I turned to my now 15-year old daughter with a serious face and jokingly said, “Note to self, no potato chips on a boat, remember that for when you are a parent someday”. To which she responded with a huge smile, “Hey, that’s a great idea for a baby shower gift for me one day, a list of parenting tips from you like that one!” Ah yes, how clever, I would begin documenting my words of wisdom to pass down to my daughter. First on my list, “laugh as often as you can with your child”, second on the list, “Do not bring potato chips on a boat” and the rest, well, that will take me some time to write because having children has taught me much more than I ever imagined and without them I would not have “words of wisdom” to share.
On this cold January day, “Te Mando Flores”, I send you flowers. That’s the title of an upbeat and uplifting song by Colombian Vallenato singer Fonseca. On this cold January day I share with you some of my Colombian heritage and introduce you to the warming sounds of the Vallenato.
The Vallenato music is from the northern coast of Colombia. It means, “from the valley”, specifically referring to the valley between the mountains of Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and Serranía de Perijá in the northeastern part of the country.
The Vallenato is one of Colombia’s most popular and representative genres of music. In my opinion, a party is not a party unless a Vallenato is played. Its origin has roots in Spanish minstrels and West African rhythms. The Vallenato originally played with an indigenous Gaita flute, a drum called a caja, and a percussion instrument called a guacharaca later added the European instruments of the guitar and accordion.
It was played by the farmers who traveled with their cattle throughout the region while providing entertainment and a means of story telling and communications between the villages. I often hear similarities between Vallenato and Cajun Zydeco. When I listen to contemporary West African music there is no denying the ancestral roots of these coastal Colombian tunes. Not only do I love the fact that Colombian music is a blend of many cultures, Vallenato in particular is going to make you want to DANCE. Those lively accordion songs and rhythms are guaranteed to take you out of any state of funk you may be in. In my case today, the January winter blues!
I have very fond memories of listening to my first live Vallenato band. During my college years I went on an amazing expedition trip throughout Colombia with my best friend. The year was 1983. One of our many stops included Santa Marta located on the northern coast. It was there that I enjoyed my first “cerveza” ever while listening to live Vallenato music. The only reason we ordered beer was because it was cheaper than Coca-Cola. I remember a lot about that night: the place was an outdoor cafe, the lighting was golden, I felt so grown up drinking a beer, the beer tasted bitter but was o.k. (I had not quite acquired a taste for hops yet), the band played Vallenato on a stage at the front of the café, and had two female singers wearing identical yellow dresses singing away with gusto. We ended up calling the singers, “the screaming pestaña sisters”- “the screaming eye lash sisters”. I think the name came about mainly because they wore a lot of make up and not because their singing sounded like screaming. They probably were not even sisters but their identical outfits made them look like twins. We were two childhood friends, now in college, transitioning into adulthood, but still enjoying the laughter and giggles that we had shared since we were two years old. And mostly I remember thinking, “This music is awesome!”
So open up your favorite music-streaming app and look for Vallenato music. Look for Fonseca and Carlos Vives, both Colombian Latin Grammy winners. Try out songs by Fonseca: Te Mando Flores, Eres Mi Sueño, Gratitud, Ilusion, and Hace Tiempo. And by Carlos Vives try: El Cantor de Fonseca, La Gota Fria, El Amor de mi Tierra, Fruta Fresca, and Carito.
…. Let go and dance away in your kitchen, living room or office! It’s good for your heart and soul. You will feel so energized afterwards. I hope this music livens your day and your life as much as it does me. Baila conmigo… Dance with me!
Annual Colombian Festival of the Vallenato
For the last ten years I have dreamt of making sugar cookies that are rolled out, cut into fun shapes, and decorated with royal icing. They always looked so beautiful to me. In my enthusiasm I have spent ten years collecting cookie cutters for different occasions like Christmas, Halloween, dinosaurs, spring, and many other assorted shapes and sizes. Sadly my cookie cutters have just collected dust all these years.
Don’t get me wrong; my children have not been deprived of cookies. I have made plenty of other cookies for them and of course purchased many Oreos and Chips Ahoy! along the way. I can remember the Wookiee Cookies from the Star Wars cookbook being a big hit! And we have certainly made plenty of chocolate chip cookies. At Christmas time we have a tradition of making cookies like Russian Tea Cakes that have ground walnuts and are covered in powdered sugar. We also make Chocolate Dips with a recipe that came from my mother-in-law making them extra special. Now we make batches of Chocolate Dips for major occasions of the year like Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.
But somehow I always ran out of time to make the sugar iced cookies, that is, until this year. With a son who is now a junior in high school, and a daughter, a sophomore, it was imperative to start my new tradition before they leave the house to go to college. So I researched recipes and watched You-tube videos on decorating with royal icing and I am delighted to report that I made my first ever sugar iced cookies. First I baked them and let them cool overnight. Then the next day I finished icing the first collection of cookies of mostly snowflakes, stars, and bells. Two days later I decorated Christmas trees, Christmas ornaments, and mittens. I was so pleased and happy with myself for finally making my sugar iced cookies. Ten years in the making! And they were a huge hit. I received many accolades from the family and friends. A new tradition has begun. Although I have only made Christmas themed cookies so far, rest assured I plan to use my extensive cookie cutter collection this next year. My thinking is that a 17 and 15 year-old are never too old for sugar iced dinosaur cookies!
To say that our family loves food would be an understatement. So when a special occasion like Thanksgiving comes around it is a major project of entertainment and culinary delight for all. It all begins with the menu selection. Then come days of what I like to call hunting and gathering, a.k.a. food shopping. And finally the fun begins with the preparation. Both my husband and I enjoy cooking so we make an excellent team in the kitchen. Our children also participate in the cooking.
And after a full day of culinary orchestration comes the moment when all of the dishes are completed and arranged for serving. We gather around with anticipation and excitement waiting to serve and savor our delicious Thanksgiving meal.
I hope you and your families enjoyed your Thanksgiving traditions and celebrations as much as we enjoyed ours. And of course, what makes these celebrations special is being able to share them with our loved ones. “Happy Thanksgiving”
I found a wonderful Oprah Winfrey quote that I would like to share with you:
Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.
This year I got inspired to set up my holiday winter village in early November. This ritual begins the holiday season for me. As I write this, I’m looking at the snow coming down. Although we are only expecting two to four inches of snow, it is enough to turn the outside into a real winter village.Thanksgiving is “beginning to look a lot like Christmas”.