Monday, August 22, 2011

Thirty - A Look Back to Birthdays Past

In honor of turning thirty earlier this month, I have decided that  I will pay tribute to birthdays past -- mere memories, some more vivid than others.

I have a relatively good memory (cuando me conviene) and have the ability to remember waaaaaaaaaay back. Sure, pictures help to jog this old noggin, but I can sometimes remember more vividly than others.

For instance, I can remember my 8th (or was it 9th) birthday where we had a piñata and my very pregnant Madrina and my mom's very pregnant friend, Snoopy battled over candy with such fervor that they both fell on top of me. Near death experience. At this same party, one Papi's cousins decided it would be a total gag to rub frosting all over my face. I sure as heck didn't think so and have the pictures of me bawling to prove it.  I also wasn't too fond of said person because he thought it oh so funny to flip his eyelids inside out and scare the Bejeezus out of me - frequently.  This guy was supposed to be one of the adults, right? Twenty plus years later, I'm still hesitant to be near him lest he do it again and then think: he was un mojon in his twenties -- what the hell did I expect?

I remember all through middle and high school being envious of the kids who had birthdays during the school year.  They'd show up to school and all their friends would bring them a balloon.  By the days end, they could probably float away given the right gust of wind.  Being a Summer baby, I never really had this opportunity. Sure, we'd always take a vacation somewhere -- Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Disney or just the beach.  But all I wanted was those stupid balloons so I could flash my so-called popularity.  They were the feathers to my peacock.

My thirteenth birthday had a hurricane looming so we didn't do anything special because we were too busy boarding up the windows.  We had ham steaks with pineapple and mashed potatoes and mom picked up the last cake at the grocery store (along with some canned goods & water). Good news was that the hurricane didn't hit.  Bad news: no party anyway.

My Quinces were everything I imagined and wanted at that time.  Blue, blue and more blue -- I even had the florists paint my flowers blue! I still remember that the boy that made my heart flutter at the time danced "Tainted Love" (my all-time favorite song) with me and that kept me on a high for weeks.  He never did call after that. Mami sat me down that day and had a talk with me.  No, not "The Talk" -- she said this:

"Don't rush in wanting to grow up.  It will come sooner than you think and the older you get, the quicker it will come.  You're fifteen now, next thing you know, you will be eighteen, then twenty-one, then twenty-five, then thirty!"

I thought she was full of shit.

My nineteenth birthday was full of sugar, cake, and Britney Spears & *NSYNC Karaoke.  There is video footage somewhere.

My twenty-first birthday was spent on a week long trip visiting the Magic Kingdom & Busch Gardens. On the actual day of my birthday, we were at Busch Gardens and I had told Papi that I wanted to buy my old man a beer.  I did -- I also bought myself one.  I didn't like it. I also remember that at exactly 10:44 am, as we were walking past some animal, Papi yelled, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY!" and spanked me so hard my teeth rattled and I think I even cried a bit.  Nine years later, I think my butt is still throbbing.  He had been waiting for at least ten minutes to do that, holding his breath and checking his watch every so often. I will pay him back someday.

On my twenty-sixth birthday, I woke up crying.  I don't know why and have since shed a tear at some point during that day -- never fails.  One of my best friends, Cocation, arrived at my job earlier than me and had decorated my entire office with balloons & streamers.  She then, along with my family, surprised me at Coyote Ugly that night for cake & drinks.  Its an interesting experience to have a strange woman pour a tequila shot in your mouth while she dances on top of a bar to "Pour Some Sugar On Me".  Yep, strike that one off the bucket list!

On my twenty-seventh birthday, Mami sat me down again.  "You're not a Spring chicken anymore.  You're closer to thirty than twenty-five." I, of course, cried. That was the first year that I heard the toll of the bell in my Vieja Clocktower. The only bright side was that I was engaged to a fabulous guy so at least I knew I wasn't going to be an old maid. My niece was also born six days later - what an awesome birthday gift!

Last year was a tough one.  It was the first time I have ever been away from my family.  They called all day and Mami made a Lechon Asado in my honor.  The only thing missing was me. I asked that they at least place a picture of me at the dinner table so it would seem that I was there. No one knew it was my birthday at my new job and my day just got worse and worse. Mi Gringito was working and it just plain sucked. Needless to say, I cried.

I decided I was going to change the pattern this year.  I refused to have a birthday cake (it also helped that it wasn't good for my diet!) and I also decided that I was going to treat this day like any other.  No fanfare, nothing.  My other best friend, Muffin, flew all the way from Iowa to spend the week with me and that was birthday gift enough. On the actual day of my birthday, we headed North to some outlet malls and just hung out -- we even saw a moose on the drive home! Forget that we were scared of random Indians popping out of the woods and standing in the middle of the road -- maybe the mushrooms in our supper were magical! So, finally, I did not cry on the day of my birthday!

I cried the following day.

I was in a rush because Mi Gringito had a job interview and I had lost all track of time. I was in the shower washing my hair when there was a knock on the bathroom door. Mi Gringito needed to use the bathroom and was asking permission to enter.  You'd think after nearly two years of marriage, he'd walk right in -- I do. I tell him OK and don't bother to turn around; I had more important things to attend to like the shampoo that was making its way into my eyes. All of a sudden, the shower door opens.  I turned around to see what he was thinking when I looked right at my mother's face.  SURPRISE! Mami had come to visit me like a ninja! She offered to scrub my back, I sobbed like a baby. Best. Birthday. Ever. I had my Mami and my Muffin with me for an entire week.  Muffin made me cinnamon rolls from scratch and got me the coolest pair of Sperry Top-Siders (I've always wanted a pair!). We hung out, drank wine, played dominoes. I also scored an "ñ" charm for my bracelet as well as a Kindle. Its going to be hard to top this one, I fear!

 





What are some of your fond or not-so-fond memories of birthdays past?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Memi's Favorite: Abuela's Arroz Con Pollo A La Chorrera

Everyone has a favorite dish that they can seemingly eat day in and day out for the rest of their lives.  Mine has changed from time to time as I have grown and tried new things. But today, we are not going to discuss my favorite; we are going to delve into a dish that has made my sister's mouth water as far back as I can remember.

Abuela has always made Arroz con Pollo a La Chorrera to mark special occasions. Be it a birthday, anniversary or Easter Sunday -- the smells coming out of that kitchen and my sister's happy dances are key to those memories.

This weekend, I had the urge to recreate this delicious dish for Mi Gringito, Los Suegros and some of their friends. So what's a girl to do? I called Abuela and had a cooking consultation.  Readers, I do this frequently.  We gab about what's been going on since we last spoke as well as reminisce on dishes she has made me in the past.  I then ask her how she makes one of her many delectable dishes. "Mi Niña, tu sabes que yo lo hago todo de ojo" - Translation: "My little one, you know that I do it all by eye." Hence, no measurements.

So, after about an hour of back and forth here is the recipe I was able to conjure up:

Abuela's Arroz Con Pollo A La Chorrera
Ingredients:
2 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (or enough to cover the bottom of pan)
3 Large Boneless-Skinless Chicken Breasts
Salt
Freshly Ground Pepper
Dried Oregano
1/4 C Sofrito (I buy the GOYA version)
2 12oz Bottles of Beer (I used Beck's since "La Llave" was Abuelo's beverage of choice)
1 12oz can of Tomato Sauce
2 14.5oz cans of Chicken Stock (I used a Low Sodium/Fat Free variety)
2 packets of GOYA Seasoning
2 C White Rice, uncooked
1 C frozen small peas, thawed
1 small jar of Pimentos
Tabasco Sauce, to taste

Directions

  • Season both sides of the breasts with the salt, pepper & oregano.
  • In a large heavy stock pot, heat olive oil and saute the sofrito until fragrant -- approximately one (1) minute on medium-high heat.
  • Sear the chicken breasts in the sofrito -- approximately one to two (1-2) minutes per side.
  • Add one bottle of beer and let cook for five (5) minutes.
  • Add the chicken stock, tomato sauce, GOYA seasoning and about one-half (1/2) tsp of salt. Stir to mix ingredients.
  • Add the rice, and stir again.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil by raising the heat to high.
  • Once boiling, reduce to low and cover.  Let simmer for thirty (30) minutes.
  • Add the second bottle of beer to the rice.
  • Cover again and continue to simmer for ten (10) minutes.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Remove chicken from pot and set on a plate or cutting board.  Using two forks, shred the breasts.
  • Add the chicken, peas & pimentos back into the rice along with a dash (or two or three) of Tabasco sauce.  Mix well and let sit for about five (5) more minutes.


Viola!

I apologize for lack of pictures, but I do have the before and after.  Here's my question to you: do you think they liked it?

Before...

I think they were just being polite...


Sigh, I'm actually sad that there wasn't any leftovers.  It was such a hit that I can't wait to make it again.  Who knows -- I just might make it for Abuela when I go visit her in Miami next week.