Day 69 – Thanksgiving

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Today I give thanks to this happy couple. My parents – circa 1969 at Banff or Glacier NP. They represent what the United States of America is all about.

A country of compassion.

A country of opportunity.

A country where an economic refugee from Germany and a political refugee from Cuba, could meet, fall in love, get married, and carve out a life and raise a family.

All of that happened in a little neighborhood on the far north side of Chicago called Rogers Park.

They embodied the American Dream.

My dad, a craftsman, opened a business with his brother and my mother went to school to become a registered nurse. It took them a little over 20 years to buy a house, which by that time my brother and I were in college.

But it wasn’t all peaches and cream – if I may use that cliché.

My little nuclear family was a place where two very different cultures collided.

Yes, collided. No melting happened in the pot of my family. Although, you could argue German and Cuban DNA did blend to create my brother and me. But that is another story…

From our little experiment – I am authorized to say the American melting pot is a farce, a fantasy, a disillusioned idea.

What does it mean to melt cultures together?

What does it mean to have no diversity?

What does it mean to have no differing opinions or perspectives?

What if there was only one color in a rainbow? Blue bow? Red bow? Purple bow?

Take a walk in the woods, snorkel around a coral reef, canoe along a river through a rain forest.

In nature there is only diversity. An ecosystem is made up of diverse creatures. From microscopic plankton to huge whales. Life on Earth thrives on biological diversity. Any time one organism takes over a habitat – the ecosystem becomes imbalanced. Disease, mass die-offs, decreased food sources.

coral-reef

Life on Earth thrives on biological diversity.

Why should it be any different culturally?

In my little family, we didn’t blend cultures. We didn’t create a new culinary genre where  sauerkraut is paired with arroz con pollo, lechon asado, or ropa vieja. Although bistec milanesa or empanisado (breaded steak) was very similar to wienerschnitzel – and this little Cuban/German girl loved both.

Dad never learned how to dance the Cuban son – mom never learned to polka. Neither learned the other’s language. A version of English is what we spoke in our household (although I always say English is my second language).

Dad thought my Cuban family yelled too much. And Mom thought my German family didn’t like her because she was a “darkie.”

For better and worse, my parents stayed together until my Dad’s death in 2013. Despite their outer dysfunction – the communication challenges, the short bouts of yelling, followed by years of silence – deep down inside, they loved each other.

As I approach my late 40s, I have finally realized what my parents gave me.

Cultural sensitivity, an ability to be patient with and understand people with accents, a mysterious morphological make up that allows me access into a diversity of groups, and the consciousness to see the humanity shared by all of us.

So I give thanks for them and for this country that made it all happen.

I only hope I can share their gifts with others.

Aloha!

 

 

How to roast a pig…

It begins with a homemade caja - cooking box.
It begins with a homemade caja – cooking box.

Disclaimer: This post is not meant to be used as a recipe and it may contain images that vegetarians and vegans may find offensive. Yes I am an omnivore, please don’t judge me.

A pig is roasting over smoldering coals above an aluminum box under palm trees, a garlic tinged smokey haze drifts through the warm humid air, Cuban relatives chatter urgently about their Christmas shopping adventures, saliva escapes my half open mouth and my stomach growls. It is Christmas Eve day and I am witnessing a ritual woven into my culinary DNA, in a world far away from my Seattle WA home; Miami Florida.

My first pig roast was Christmas Eve 1980, I was only ten. It was in the backyard of my cousin’s house. It was a huge backyard that bordered Alligator habitat, a canal, a place where we kids weren’t supposed to go near. The advantage of living near alligator habitat was the topsoil. The layer above the ancient coral reefs that make up most of south Florida was deep enough for my cousins to dig a hole to roast a pig by burying it. All night, as I played with my little cousins, all I could think about was tasting my first authentic Cuban roast pig. The roast pig I had back home in Chicago wasn’t authentic, it was cooked in an oven.  But after several hours of cooking, the clock ticking closer to Christmas, the pig was finally unearthed, only to find it was still raw in the middle.

Fast forward 33 years – that many really?- and I am witnessing my second Cuban pig roast. This time we were in a part of Miami where burying a pig was out of the question. Instead a cooking box or caja was used. There are several ways to make a caja, this one is made from a large aluminum sink cabinet reclaimed from a restaurant that went out of business. The bottom of the caja is layered with charcoal then lit. When the coals are hot, the caja is ready for the pig.

Weapons of Mass Marination

The pig began marinating the morning of the roast. The secret – making the marinade or mojo with lots of garlic and using sour oranges picked from a tree a few feet from the caja,  then injecting it into the muscle of the pork.

 

When the coals are ready the dressed pig comes out under a veil of banana leaves. The banana leaves, also from the backyard, cover the splayed corpse of a pig sandwiched between two aluminum mesh holders secured with wire. The holder fits perfectly on top of the caja, where the pig is placed skin side down.

 

 

The pig arrives...
The pig arrives…
Making sure the pig is okay.
Making sure the pig is okay.
Pig placed atop the caja.
Pig placed atop the caja.

After checking to make sure the pig is positioned correctly, the banana leaves are replaced then topped with a metal sheet. The pig is left for about twenty minutes to sear the skin.

Caja top...
Caja top…

Once the skin is seared, then begins the several hour long process of flipping the pig, every hour or so, to ensure proper cooking.

Turning the pig.
Turning the pig.
Turning the pig.
Turning the pig.

Unfortunately, our relative visiting schedule didn’t allow me to stay for the end result – something I will have to change the next time I visit. I just hope it is sooner than 33 years.

Note: If you want some instruction on how to roast a pig – Cuban style – or ideas of a marinade called mojo – you can google “Cuban roast pig” or visit these two website one on Martha Stewart’s website really? and one on the three Cuban guys website.

A big Gracias to my cousins and their friends who let this gringatina from Seattle observe this succulent ritual.