Pig Eyes and Fire Alarms

I’ve returned from my family reunion in North Carolina with great memories and a higher alcohol tolerance. I hadn’t seen most of my extended family for almost a decade, before I was even a teenager, so it was basically like meeting them all over again. Luckily, any bit of awkwardness disappeared very quickly, and it was like we had only seen each other yesterday. The “Reunion de Cabezones” was a big party. (“Cabezones” because the family is notoriously stubborn and hard-headed.)  In typical Cuban fashion, we ate a lot, drank a lot, and talked REALLY LOUD.  It was fun because us “kids” were now older.  We had animated discussions about everything under the sun, made fun of my Floridian cousin’s Southern accent, played beer pong, and initiated another cousin’s non-Cuban friend into the family with the consumption of…wait for it…a pig eye.

Before you gasp, there really is no such initiation.  It is indeed Cuban tradition to roast a pig for large gatherings and celebrations.  A whole pig, so yes, it still has legs, tail, ears, skin, and head.  When it was put on the table, most of us drooled over prospect of crunching into the delicious crispy skin (sorry vegetarians, but it’s soooo good), but some, like my cousin’s friend, were a little jarred by the appearance (it was her first pig roast.)  Another one of my cousins, an evil genius, declared that it was Cuban tradition to eat one of the eyes at your first pig roast.  The friend looked skeptical, but everybody nodded and agreed, “Oh yeah…we’ve all done it before…it’s tradition…”

My cousin got a plastic spoon and scooped out one of the eyes, which due to roasting was just a shriveled black chunk in the eye socket. (Afterwards, he told us that he was getting really grossed out while trying to get it out, but knew it’d be worth it.)  He handed it to her on the spoon, gave her a can of beer, and to our surprise she tossed it in her mouth and washed it down like an Advil.  We all burst out into a mixture of laughs and groans of disgust, and finally told her it was all a lie.  She was dumbstruck for a moment and color raced to her cheeks until she finally found the words to remonstrate our cruelty.  Luckily, she wasn’t terribly angr.  She was impressed and amazed that we all knew to go along with it.  Only the bonds of family could pull off such spontaneous trickery.  We dared another one of my cousins to eat the other eye and she did it, because she will basically do anything if you dare her to.  Her verdict?  It just tasted like really chewy, bouncy pork.

“So there’s the pig eye. What’s this about a fire alarm?” you might ask.

Well, the downside of the reunion was that my grandfather had to be rushed to the hospital the second day.  He had a really hard time breathing when he woke up; turns out he had a mild heart attack and his kidneys weren’t functioning properly.  (He’s doing better now.)  He still wanted us to go on with the reunion, but we visited him in the hospital periodically.  While my grandmother was visiting, she came across one of those clear glass doors that you have to open with a button on the wall–you know the kind because you use them even though you’re not handicapped (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE!)  There was a man on the other side motioning to her to open the door, at least that’s what she thought.  She looked at a red lever on the wall and pulled it.  Then the fire alarm rang.

Yes, my grandmother pulled a fire alarm. In a hospital.

My mother saw her bouncing down the hallway with a cheeky little smile on her face, her hands folded neatly under chest, and instantly she knew that she had SOMETHING to do with it.  Somehow she didn’t get caught.  Mom said she saw the man behind the door explaining what happened to a group of security guards.  So, as you can imagine, my family told her not to touch ANYTHING else in the hospital.  A few moments later, she tried opening another door by pressing the rubber door stopper on the wall.  Ay.

It was definitely a reunion to remember, and I certainly hope I don’t go another ten years without seeing everyone again.

UPDATE:  My grandmother did indeed get caught.  When she went back to visit my grandfather, a police officer took her to a room and showed her that they had her on camera pulling the fire alarm.  (God, I would totally YouTube that shit if I could get a hold of it!)  He explained to her that she committed a serious crime.  She apologized in her broken English profusely, proclaiming repeatedly, “I no from here.”  Thankfully they let her off with a warning and made her promise that she’d never do it again.


WARNING: This Post is Not Appropriate for Vegetarians Due to Roasting of Tasty Animal

Yesterday I went to the graduation party of a Cuban friend of the family and of course, as is tradition with large Cuban gatherings, a whole pig was seasoned and roasted to a delicious crisp. It looks a little brutal when its done but it smells and tastes amazing. I remember when my family had a party a long time ago we bought a whole pig and we had it hanging from the gate awning until it was ready to roast and there was a nice little puddle of blood underneath it. I can only imagine what the neighbors thought. :D Along with the pork, the graduation party also had moros (rice and black beans cooked together) and yuca. Here’s some pics:

Moros y Cristianos
Moros y Cristianos

Pics of the pig after the jump…

Continue reading WARNING: This Post is Not Appropriate for Vegetarians Due to Roasting of Tasty Animal

It’s Morón, Moron; or, Morón–Land of the Cock


Torticas de Morón are really simple cookies, made from just vegetable shortening, sugar, flour, and lemon zest.  (See Recipes So Far tab)  They get their name because they come from Morón, Cuba, which is where my dad happened to be born.  He was the one actually that taught me how to make them.  It was the fourth grade and the 4-H club was holding little competitions in my class for some reason.  I loved these cookies so I wanted to make them.  So my dad taught me, we baked them, and I brought them to school fully expecting to win because how could anyone deny the deliciousness of these cookies?  I was shocked when I didn’t.   I remember distinctly attributing it to the fact that the cookies were much too exotic for the white southern judge and that she just couldn’t understand.

The cookie’s name can be a bit confusing to people unfamiliar with Spanish or Cuba since the only thing separating “Morón” and moron is an accent mark.  This is a running joke with my dad though.  One time when I was little, he and his friend were in the living froom while my brother and I were watching Space Jam and when the movie showed Moron Mountain, my dad jokingly said, “Hey, that’s where I’m from!” .  We also have a shed in our backyard that has a metal painted rooster and the word Morón above the door, and on more than one occasion someone has asked me why my shed said “moron” on it.  The rooster is kind of Morón’s mascot, el Gallo de Morón.  It just adds one more dimension of fun, as the immature title of post indicates.

The supposed legend behind the Rooster of Morón after the jump. (In Spanish)

Continue reading It’s Morón, Moron; or, Morón–Land of the Cock

Who am I again? Oh, right.

I have started classes already and I’m already a little overwhelmed by all the reading I’ll have to do this semester.  I also have that lingering high school complex to be the best in the class lurking in the back of my mind.  I’ve been trying to banish it by just telling myself to have fun with my courses.  Just do my best and get a good experience out of it.  My professors were great, but I was a little worried with my Latino lit class at first.  I like my professor but she’s a little timid, not like the other powerful female English professors I’ve had/have.  However, I think the class will be an enlightening experience.  Today we talked about how Latino literature IS American literature and often struggles with issues of identity and something clicked in my head, an immediate connection to this literature and its authors.

Although I’m not really a first generation Cuban in the sense that my parents are very “Americanized” since they have been in the US since they were very young and I didn’t grow up in the “barrio” or in the heavy shadow of cultural obligation, I too struggled with identity.  For me, growing up in small town, white bread, Tennessee and searching for some kind of answer to the question, “Who am I?”, I clung to my cultural heritage as a way to make myself unique and special, to make my identity something definitive.  I never wanted to fit in; quite the opposite; I wanted to distinguish myself in every way possible.  So I made sure everyone knew that I was Cuban, in elementary school showing other kids where it was on the map, in the rest of my school career vigorously educating them when they said, “But you don’t look it…” as if I could not possibly be Cuban because I wasn’t dark-skinned.

However, while I was educating my peers about the diversity within the Latino community, I also paradoxically worried I wasn’t Cuban enough, especially since I didn’t know Spanish, even though I knew that there is no “standard” to being Cuban and you should never limit yourself by your ethnicity.  I still cling to it occassionally when I feel unsure of myself but now I’m in a more diverse (comparatively) community where there’s lots of different Latinos, even other Cubans besides me.  Maybe it’s not so special, maybe I can’t base my identity, my need to feel unique, solely on being Cuban because it makes me feel safe, but I can still keep that orgullo which is definitely distinctly Cuban.  And I can still ponder my identity, something my professor said was uniquely American (though I don’t really agree).  I know better now.  I know am Cuban no matter who I am.  I know that my identity is comprised of more parts than I can count and that it don’t NEED to pin it down.  I just need, to be so very cliche, to be myself and let go.  I’m more complex than a single label can encompass.

God, no more sugar please…

So last week my sweet tooth went into overdrive.  I randomly made cheesecake lemon bars.  I bought a fine bar of chocolate.  I made MORE dulce de leche.  And I basically ate constantly.  As a result, now the thought of anything sweet and heavy makes me sick.  The past couple days I’ve had basically no appetite but have been eating small, light veggie/fruit based meals, which is probably great for my health anyway so hopefully I’ll keep it up.  Since I haven’t been up for heavy foods I haven’t been cooking the usual cuban fare of rice and beans so I’ll have to search for lighter options.  I think I just burned out on it a bit.  Something that is a Cuban staple but still sounds good right now is aguacate (avocado!), and it’s healthy.  But since I can’t eat an avocado by itself (well, actually I can, quite easily, but it doesn’t make much of a meal…) I’ll need to look for  recipes.

In Memories of a Cuban Kitchen, Mary Urrutia Randelman writes that “green salads and vegetables were not a common part of Cuban cuisine” due to the influence of 1950s American cuisine that championed canned vegetables and fruit over fresh (thanks Uncle Sam).  So salad meant ham or chicken salad made with mayonnaise and “fruit salad” was made of fruit cocktail.  Lettuce leaves were mainly used as garnish.  Popular vegetables in Cuba were were avocado, boniato (white sweet potato), yuca, calabaza (West Indian pumpkin), malanga and so on.  Radishes, eggplant, and okra are also sometimes used.  Also salads are hardly used as a main dish but rather as a complement to other dishes.  I’m looking through the recipes which range from traditional to her own creations and there’s actually an avocado and mango salad, which sounds weird enough to be intriguing (there’s also an avocado and pineapple salad.)  I’d like to give it a try but I actually have an cooking assignment, but I can’t say what it is because it’s a surprise for *someone* and I don’t want to ruin it if *someone* actually reads this.

In other news I had my last day of work yesterday so I’m free until next Tuesday when I have to move into my dorm, the thought of which freaks me out.  I can’t believe it’s already here.  I was excited before but…where did my summer go?  I’m trying not to think about it too much but I’ve got to start preparing so it’s inevitable.  Also, I turn 20 on Sunday.  Finally, I’m leaving my teenage years behind.  It’s corny but I can’t wait to tell people I’m 20.  Makes me feel so grown-up!  (Which is probably an indicator that I’m actually not…;P) Ah well.  I going to continue working on a little project I’ve started, a little mirror compact with a vintage photo on the cover. Adios.