Most people think of Saint Patrick’s day when the 17th of March rolls around but I’m reminded of my older sister, Cynthia’s, wedding anniversary. Almost 40 years ago I was working in Puerto Rico with Delta Airlines and being away from home had missed all the wedding planning and preparations. Unable to leave work until the afternoon of the rehearsal dinner, I flew into Fort Lauderdale in time for the rehearsal dinner after-party which I was hosting. This was almost 40 years ago, when tropical drinks were thought of as exotic and slightly dangerous. My post-dinner party was to be a Puerto Rican pina colada celebration and I arrived well prepared. My suitcase was loaded with small cans of Coco Lopez cream of coconut, a product almost unknown here in south Florida at the time, my blender and a blender I had borrowed from a friend. I had boarded the flight with two handles of golden Puerto Rican rum…one in each hand. My only instructions for Mama were to stock up on ice, pineapple juice and limes. Knowing my flight would touch down at about the same time the dessert course was being served I had told Mama I would take a cab to the house; there was no need to send someone to fetch me. The taxi driver helped me to the front door with all my goodies. The house was quiet. I opened the front door and gaily called out, “Hi, everybody! I’m home!” My eyes swept the high ceilinged living room and quickly accessed the mood. Mercy. Every guest was sitting quietly…politely…ram rod straight. I turned to my little brother and sister and murmured their orders. They understood the tragedy of a flat party and the importance of their chores. Within minutes we had salsa playing, both blenders whirred away offering up a frosty concoction to the waiting crystal goblets which were whisked out of the kitchen and served to the waiting guests. My brother Tommy, sister Pamela and I happily buzzed about the kitchen mixing batch after batch of rum drinks while enjoying the laughter, cocktail chatter and music from the rest of the house. We all had a delightful time. The following day the weather was glorious, the bride was beautiful and glowing and the wedding was exquisite. We had done our jobs and done them well. All these years later I wish you a happy anniversary, Cynthia and Wash!
If you’ve never tried making this cocktail at home you must. This pina colada may be served over ice or with the ice blended in as with a “slushy”. Either way you’ll find, unlike many mixed and served in bars, hotels and restaurants, it’s not too sweet and much lighter than the aforementioned drinks. It is best mixed in your largest pitcher or an empty plastic gallon jug then chilled. If you plan on serving the iced “slushy” version, pack your blender half full of ice, pour in the already mixed drink then blend until liquified. This recipe doubles or triples well. Your cocktail will also inspire tropical trade winds when garnished with fresh pineapple spear. But beware. They go down quite easily!
Part store bought, part homemade, this cake is a winner. How can you lose when you’re working with coffee, rum, chocolate and cream? I started making this cake back in the ’80’s and it has never let me down. Light yet rich and luxurious, Diplomatico cake is typically credited to Marcella Hazan. I lost my original recipe, however, this one is quite close to hers. A cheap, store bought pound cake is best as it’s sturdy and will keep its shape. It’s a super easy going recipe…a little more of this and a little less of that is not an issue.
I’ve made it with 4 eggs and I’ve made it with 6. Sometimes I have espresso and at times I’ve only had the morning’s cold coffee available. It all works beautifully. The coffee and rum are strong and aromatic. The intense chocolate mousse inside is…well, it’s chocolate, it’s heavenly. And that cloud of whipped cream softens and compliments the entire cake. Keep in mind the eggs are raw, not cooked, so if anyone has allergies or food issues maybe they should have their own little dish of berries. Hope you’ll try it!
I started working on the recipe for this cake after dreaming of the spice sheet cake of my youth. And the creamy icing that topped the perfectly cut cake square the nice cafeteria lady handed me. But I wanted the cake updated…steeped in a syrup of some sort…something denser than my grade school fluff cake…with hints of rum…and orange. No easy feat for me. My projects, culinary or otherwise, are typically crazy great or resounding, flat-out failures. And if the project was too involved there was a good chance I might lose interest and walk away. That happened often when I decided to rearrange my bedroom during those difficult teen years. I couldn’t move my furniture around until I had separated the mountains of clothes into ‘these are to be hung up and put away’ and ‘these are dirty’. They had to be addressed; there was no manner of walking through my room without shuffling through clothes up to your knees. That in itself was project and took the better part of a couple of hours. But let’s pretend I did tackle that portion of redecoration. Because after that labour books, shoes, plates, record albums, tennis racquets and tennis balls all had to be dragged out from under my bed and also put away. I know I drove my mother cray-cray. By then I was exhausted and the bedroom truly looked as though a bomb went off. There was a good chance my “new look” would take a day or two. Dust bunnies the size of grape fruit were not uncommon. Eventually I would finish because I had to sleep somewhere. What a mess. And Mama always, without fail, instructed our housekeeper, Frankie, NOT to help me in any way. Well, sometimes my recipes are kind of like that. I add this, I take out that. I go back to the grocery store for the third time that day. I forget to take out my butter…or eggs. I spend a fortune on quality ingredients and the end result turns out to be disappointingly mediocre…at best. But every now and again I come up with something even I like. And this is one of those recipes. It was a spiced rum cake steeped in a brown cane sugar syrup until my son, James, had a taste. “This isn’t new.” Me, “Yes, it is! I just made it for the first time.” James, “Mama! C’mon. You make this all the time.” And that’s when I realized why the cake tasted so familiar. The ingredients are somewhat similar to the celebrated Greek honey and spice cookie, the Melomakarona. Except my cake doesn’t call for honey. Rum, baby. It calls for rum…not much, just enough to make its mark. Hope you enjoy it!
This cake has the density of a pound cake and, like pound cake, the flavor is markedly better, fuller, a day or two after baking. The syrup is rich and earthy due to the base of panela, also known as piloncillo, a minimally processed product of cane juice boiled down to a thick syrup which is then hardened into a hard-as-a-rock brick or cone-shaped “pilon”.
Panela is pure and clean with deep notes of earth and smoke…an almost scorched flavor. It speaks of rum and caramel and butter. Rock hard, it can be grated into baked goods, BBQ sauce, rum and tequila drinks or, as in this recipe, melted stove top. It can be found in the Hispanic section of your grocery store or in any Latin American market. Easy to find, it puts the standard, one-dimensional brown sugar to shame. This stuff is cheap, stores well and is downright magical. You’ll love it!
3 tablespoons fresh orange zest, about 1 large navel orange
1 cup milk
1/3 cup spiced rum
2 cups water
1 pound Panela or Piloncillo
2 tablespoons spiced rum
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
Cover the inside of a 10″X3 1/2″, or 12-cup, bundt pan with non-stick cooking spray.
Scatter the pecans evenly over the bottom of the sprayed bundt pan and set aside.
In a medium size bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves and salt. Whisk the dry ingredients until all are completely combined. Set aside.
In a large bowl cream butter until light and fluffy.
Add the brown sugar to the butter and mix well.
Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat the batter at each addition only until you no longer see the yolk.
Add the orange zest and mix just to combine.
Gradually add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternating with the milk and 1/3 cup of spiced rum. Begin and end with the flour. Mix only until ingredients are incorporated to avoid a tough cake.
Pour batter into bundt pan and smooth the top of the batter.
Bake for one hour or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan.
Cool on a rack
While the cake is cooling, pour into a medium saucepan 2 cups water. Add the panela and simmer, stirring occasionally to help break up the panela.
Simmer until the syrup thickens and coats the back of the spoon.
Remove from heat and stir in the 2 tablespoons of spiced rum and vanilla extract.
Spoon evenly over the top and sides of the warm cake, cover with plastic wrap and allow the cake to sit in the bundt pan over night.
So as not to scratch the pan, use a plastic knife to loosen the inner and outer edges of the cake.
Sometime before Christmas I got a strong hankering for homemade fruit cake, more specifically black cake. My father’s father used to make it every June or July, basting it regularly with West Indian rum, then serving it to the privileged few in through fall and winter. Grandpa was an incredible cook and baker and I regret that we never banged around the kitchen together. My 20’s were, shall we say, sketchy? I entertained quite a bit but, being young and foolish, I allowed myself to get crazy about details and elaborate menus. I hadn’t moved back home to Fort Lauderdale when he passed away. And although I have his massive recipe collection, I don’t have his recipe for black cake or fruit cake but, again, I know he loved West Indian rums so as I did my recipe research and development I kept that in mind. Grandpa traveled often to Saint Kitts, where he had family, and also the Lesser Antilles. He always brought back beautiful bottles of rum and brandy, the labels decorated sometimes by hand, and small, mysterious bottles of bitters. His crystal decanters were typically filled 1/3 and, in late afternoon when the sun shone in, they cast the most magical rainbows across his floors and walls. Grandpa had a full closet in his house that was his bar. That bar was something else! Angostura bitters, vermouth, rum, brandy, gin, vodka, scotch, bourbon. Glasses varying in size, hand etched with his monogram, were kept on a shelf in the closet. And guess what sat next to those glasses? Yup. All those beautiful black cakes and fruit cakes sitting in fine rum through summer and fall just waiting to be served. Through the year Grandpa would refresh each cake regularly with a quick splash of rum or brandy. He kept them neatly stacked on a shelf in his bar and through the year would regularly share a slice or two with family and friends. His apartment was on the water and since he was less than a half mile from our house we visited often.
He was a gentleman’s gentleman, from the way he dressed to how his flat was furnished. Floor to ceiling book cases overflowed with excellent collections of the classics which gave him great enjoyment, some volumes so rare they were donated and exhibited at our main library. His father, also a bibliophile, had been a book publisher and Grandpa had a deep affection for the bindings, the quality of paper and the worlds those written tomes could take you. He loved raw oysters and sweetbreads, cold, rare roast beef and all manner of fowl. Nothing made him happier than throwing his big, wooden crab traps off the dock, while in linen Bermuda shorts, and watching the rectangular crates sink to the murky canal floor anticipating the sweet seafood pleasure to come. He surrounded himself with family pieces; silver was always polished, windows open at the ready for gentle, salt breezes and a homemade 4-layer, dark chocolate cake, iced and ready for company was always waiting in his refrigerator. 5 o’clock found him without fail in one of his club chairs, cocktail made, reading the newspaper. He had a passion for recipes from India, Britain and the islands, handsome full brogue Oxford dress shoes and rich but worn Persian rugs. Grandpa kept his knives frighteningly sharp and his ice bucket fresh and full. The downside was he could have a biting tongue. When my older sister, Cynthia, and I were much younger, maybe eight and six, we were left alone in the living room of his apartment while the grownups were having drinks on the porch. I was fascinated with learning cursive and, of course, model student Cynthia had already perfected her penmanship. Using our index fingers we idly traced our names on an elaborate silver tray that happened to be covered with dust. Try as I might, I just could not figure out how to connect the “c” in my name with the following letter “i”. The next day, and I don’t recall if the tirade took place at our house or his, however, I DO quite clearly remember Grandpa bending down over Cynthia and me and with his booming, deep voice bellowing two inches from our white-with-fear faces, “…WHO DO YOU THINK I AM?? YOUR SERVANT?? YOUR LACKEY??” We stood in frozen terror and I remember thinking, “What’s a lackey?”. Mama came to our defense explaining we had not meant to insult him and I believe she ended up receiving the verbal brunt of his fury. He was highly opinionated and pretty fearless. Not only did he love me but he liked me so I moved about him with ease and affection. I am of the opinion he would have highly approved of this cake, nibbling on a sliver every day until gone to begin again the gathering of dried fruits and spirits.
This cake is nothing like the fruit cakes of old that were baked with Day-Glo candied fruits from the grocery store and best used as door stops. No. This cake is tender, and rich and almost chocolaty in flavor. I’m crazy about it, can’t keep my hands off it and, as I lean up against my kitchen counter and taste that first morsel redolent with the warm, mysterious flavors of candied orange peel, burnt sugar or browning, dark rum and port, well, I almost feel like a pirate in the West Indies.
My recipe is based on Chowhound’s “Caribbean Black Fruitcake” and, really, the only major difference is that I ground up all but one cup of the soaked fruit and nuts in the food processor to a slightly chunky paste. The cake is simple to assemble, however a week or two is needed for all the fruits to macerate properly so take that into consideration. The burnt sugar syrup called for in the recipe is also known as “Browning” and nothing can replace the flavor. It can be found at Publix on the “International” aisle with all island products. The label has a little fruitcake printed on it. I made my own candied orange peel back in December but if you’re not up for that, make certain you buy a good quality candied peel at, for instance, Williams Sonoma. Because of the large quantity of alcohol used to soak the fruit there is no need for additional soaking, although I did brush a bit of rum on top, once daily for two or three days, to keep the crown of the cake tender. And once the cake cools after taking it out of the oven it can be eaten; there’s no need to age it, however if does keep extremely well for up to two months, tightly wrapped in a cool, dark place…(my mouth?) Do not refrigerate it as the accumulating moisture will change the texture.
For the fruit:
2 cups whole raw almonds, coarsely chopped
2 cups prunes, coarsely chopped
2 cups dried cherries, coarsely chopped
1 cup raisins, coarsely chopped
1 cup candied orange peel, coarsely chopped
1 cup currants
1 3/4 cups fine dark rum
1 1/2 cups ruby port, tawny port is okay but ruby is sweeter
Combine all the above ingredients in a large container with a tight-fitting lid and mix well. Cover tightly and set aside in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks. Shake it every so often to mix the rum and port with the fruit and nuts.
For the cake:
1 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
6 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground clove
3/4 cup burnt sugar syrup or browning
2-3 tablespoons dark rum for brushing on baked cakes
Pre-heat oven to 300° and slide rack into the middle.
Place all the macerated fruit and nuts except one cup in food processor including all the liquid. Pulse until the fruit and nuts are a chunky paste; the texture of cooked oatmeal. Set aside.
Butter or cover with non-sticking cooking spray two 9×5 inch loaf pans. Cover the bottom of each with parchment paper, butter or spray paper and set pans aside.
In a standup mixture place butter and sugar and using the paddle attachment beat on medium for 3-4 minutes or until fluffy and pale yellow.
While the butter and sugar are mixing, place flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground cloves in a bowl and whisk to break up all lumps and combine well. Set aside.
When butter and sugar are well beaten, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add one egg at a time beating well after each addition.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the vanilla and turn the mixer to low-speed.
Add ground up fruit mixture as well as the burnt sugar syrup and mix until combined.
Take the bowl out of the stand-up mixer and using a large spoon or spatula fold the flour mixture in until just combined.
Divide evenly between the two prepared pans and bake for 2 hours or until cake tester comes out clean. The cakes will still be very moist.
Cool 30 minutes in the pans on a wire rack. Turn cakes out onto the rack and brush with a little dark rum.
Allow to cool completely before slicing or storing.
I am a bread and butter girl through and through. I’ve mentioned many a time how hungry my brother and sisters were growing up. There was nothing to eat..well, nothing that we wanted except things like sour, little apples and equally sour oranges. Taking control of my situation I made countless sandwiches for myself consisting of “brown bread”, meaning whole grain….no white in our house, cold margarine which tore the bread and thick, crisp wedges of iceberg lettuce. Romaine was unheard of in those dark days. I scarfed down those sandwiches like there was no tomorrow. Recently I asked Cynthia what she did. She couldn’t remember. Hunger will do that to you. Tommy crawled out of bed in the middle of the night and stuffed whole pieces of bread in his mouth to stave off hunger pangs and Pamela…well, Pamela simply accepted the state of household affairs and went to any number of friends houses and ate absolutely everything that was EVER offered to her. In junior high and high school I spent many a night at my friends’ Dana and Ann’s house and it never ceased to amaze me how much food they had and the variety. The variety! Ann’s parents were South Carolinians and, as Mama did, set a rather formal table every night. White linen and lit candles were everyday details. They always had exotic condiments like real butter and never an evening went by without homemade gravy in a gravy boat. Vegetables were cooked down until soft and unthreatening, laden with ham and fat and swimming in a salty pool of broth or pot likker. Good luck at my house. Mama was never that interested in food so, I don’t know, maybe she forgot that we might hungry. Maybe she forgot that children need food to grow. Don’t get me wrong. They didn’t starve us. But since Mama didn’t know how to cook and didn’t particularly care to learn, we ended up with just about the same dinner every night. Ground sirloin patties the size of a 50¢ piece, cooked all the way through, an iceberg lettuce leaf with a few slices of grocery store tomatoes and a scant serving of white, boiled rice. No salt or pepper to found any where. And that was when she didn’t burn anything. That’s just the way dinner was. We didn’t rock the boat and protest. That was the way it was in our house. And, as dismal as dinner was, all were expected to contribute to a lively conversation at the table. Manners were paramount. When we were called to the table faces had been washed, hair had been brushed and you’d better have shoes on. Candlesticks were always polished, linen placemats in front of each seat. And pretty much always fresh flowers. Just no food. Or very little anyway. So we girls spent weekend nights at friend’s houses and tried to watch our manners while filling the bottomless holes in our tummies. Back at the house I inhaled peanut butter sandwiches, we didn’t have jelly, and a plethora of margarine and lettuce sandwiches. But at Dana’s house I could count on a warm, gooey grilled cheese sandwich, something my mother had never even heard of. In her defense, Mama came from a culture that did not include sandwiches. In her day lunch was a formal, proper meal at the dining room table prepared by invisible hands in the kitchen. What did she know of chicken salad or cream cheese and olive sandwiches? Nothing. Nada. Today I’m still a bread and butter girl. Or bread and pate. Bread and a bloody rare hamburger. And bread pudding. Bread pudding that melts in your mouth. Cold or warm. With or without hard sauce. With or without whipped cream. For breakfast with cafe con leche. For lunch with a slice of extra sharp cheddar. Off a plate or out of the baking dish. Just give it to me. I’m starving. And this is a supreme bread pudding…a glorious bread pudding. The hard sauce is over the top. One could easily sneak spoonfuls of the stuff on the sly and claim there was never any made when the sauce pan comes up empty. Hell. Throw your head back and shoot it. Just drink it all. It’s that good.
I find bread pudding simply grand. You can’t go wrong with it. You can’t. This recipe serves 10-12 people and, really, the big buy part would be the eggs and cream. It’s quite the luxurious bang you get out of your buck, though. The ultimate bread pudding is made with bread that has a good crust with a soft, light interior. One day old French bread or brioche is perfect. For this particular pudding I used a sweet brioche-like bread, King’s Hawaiian Round Loaf, which worked perfectly. You don’t want to use any bread that’s too heavy or dense nor would you want seeds but other than that you can mix and match your loaves. A stale, half loaf of soft whole wheat with five or six day old dinner rolls would be fine. You know what to do. I used blueberries, pears and pomegranate seeds for this pudding but feel free to use the fruits of your choice. The pomegranate seeds added a welcome tartness but not everyone will appreciate their crisp, chewiness. Throw in raspberries if you like. Or white chocolate shards. Candied pecans would be positively sublime as would naked, toasted, chopped pecans. The combinations are limitless. But the basic tenets of bread, eggs, cream, cinnamon and nutmeg are a heady mix when combined and slid into a hot oven. The perfume of a baking bread pudding will make you feel as though you’ve done your family a good turn. I got hugs and kisses from my boy James and I’m pretty sure they’ll be lining up in your house to give you thanks, too!
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds, often found in the produce section at your grocery store
1/2 pint blueberries, cleaned and stemmed
1 15-ounce can pear halves, rinsed and drained, finely chopped
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
12 cups (approximately 1 pound) brioche or French bread, one day old, cut into 1″ to 1 1/2″ cubes
Butter 3-quart baking dish.
Place bread cubes in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
In a small bowl combine sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Mix well.
In another bowl combine eggs and cream. Add sugar mixture from small bowl and mix well.
Add fruit and vanilla extract to egg mixture, stir well to distribute evenly and pour over bread cubes.
Using a large mixing spoon, gently mix and turn over the bread to make certain all surfaces of the cubes are covered with the egg mixture. Use the back of the spoon to softly push down the pieces of bread.
Pour into the baking dish.
Cover the surface of the bread pudding with plastic wrap and weight down pudding with a small plate or two.
Set aside for at least one hour or up to no more than overnight for the bread to soak up all the custard.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Remove plastic wrap from pudding and cover with tin foil.
Place baking dish in a roasting pan or larger baking pan that will allow a water bath half way up the sides of the bread pudding dish. For the water bath, pour hot or boiling water into the larger baking pan until the water reaches half way up the bread pudding taking care not to splash.
Place the roasting pan with pudding into the oven and bake for 1 1/2 hours.
Remove foil and raise the oven temperature to 350°F. Continue baking for 45 minutes.
Test the bread pudding to check if it is done keeping in mind the pudding should be a bit firm but moist. The custard should not be runny.
Remove from oven and EVER SO CAREFULLY remove pudding dish from larger pan and place pudding on a heatproof surface to cool. Cover loosely with tin foil.
Boozy Hard Sauce
yield: not quite 2 cups
8 tablespoons, (1 stick), butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons fine rum, bourbon or brandy of your choice. Taste and add more if you wish.
In the top bowl of a double boiler whisk butter and sugar until well incorporated.
Add both eggs, whisk well and place bowl on double boiler over med high heat.
Continue whisking until you see mixture thickening, about 10-15 minutes. Mixture will continue to thicken as it cools.
Take off heat, and still whisking, add rum and vanilla.
Serve on dessert plates or any pretty bowl or glass. Trickle hard sauce over each portion when serving.
I may be wrong, I usually am even though I pretend I’m not, but with the temperature already creeping into the very high 80’s I think summer may have just hit south Florida! It’s a good thing and it’s a bad thing. Thankfully, we have ocean breezes and central AC. I hadn’t quite noticed that the heat was upon us but when Jimmy pulled out his bathing suit, rummaged around on his tobacco table for the perfect Sunday cigar and headed out to the pool for the second day in a row it dawned on me. Time to start REALLY working out again and, by the way, a bikini wax wouldn’t hurt. I got my suit on, slung my towel over my shoulder and joined him. Let me make myself clear. It’s not really MY towel. When I get in the pool I only take the towels in James’ closet…the boy’s towels. Let THEM get bleached out by chlorine or get dirt on them. Any way, the pool looked, well, not quite party ready. And the water was still too cold. I stood on the bench seat in the deep end and I wasn’t happy. I could feel myself getting crabby and peevish. I hate it when I get that way; I feel it coming and sometimes I can head it off and sometimes I can’t but today is my complete day off and, dammit, the pool looks like shit. There. I said it. I just stood there watching tiny, brown Royal Poinciana leaves slowly drift by as Jimmy was cleaning the pool, happily puffing away on his cigar, and I thought, “No. I don’t want to waste my day being bitchy and frustrated and stupid. There’s GOT to be something I can do to ward this off.” And that’s when Jimmy said, still cleaning the pool, completely unaware that there was a potential hissy fit a brewin’, “Man, I’d do anything for one of those bullfrog drinks right now.” I perked right up at the idea of outside day drinking. “Now you’re talkin’.”, I thought happily drying off thinking, “There’s GOT to be something frozen in that house I can blend with rum”. Task designed and assigned I headed off to the kitchen to see what we had. I knew we had a handle of Bacardi Lemon Rum living under the bar but what to flavor it? I tore through the freezer past the now brick-like Tsoureki bread, moving aside the broad beans, the broccoli, the yuca. Geez, there’s GOT to be something in here. My hands, now blue with cold, raked through the bottom drawer looking for that peach or strawberry canned drink mix that I knew in my heart of hearts was long gone. “Damn,” I muttered to no one, “Disappointed!”, I yelled fully aware that only the dog would witness my tantrum. But, wait. What’s that acidy yellow plastic corner peeping out? Well, well, well. There is a God after all and He has given me a frozen solid pack of pure Lulo puree! For those of you who are not familiar with the magic of Lulo it’s a fruit from Colombia that imparts a lemony, citrus taste with a pineapple sidecar finish. I am happy now! In the blender I combined half of a 14-ounce pack of frozen Lulo pulp with too much of the lemon rum, probably a cup and a half. I get carried away so pour the rum as you see fit. I added a bit of sugar as the fruit is unsweetened and packed the blender with ice. After 60 seconds or so on “liquify” it was perfect. Smoother than a slushy from 7-11. I tasted it. Nooooo! It was too raw and sharp. This frozen mess needed something…anything. I had some far gone bananas for my smoothies but, no, THAT’S NOT WHAT I WANT. Wait, wait! There are half a dozen very tired strawberries killing time in the refrigerator until someone throws them out. Perfect! I tossed them in after lopping off their tops, added a few more ice cubes and some sugar and a star was born! After another 45 seconds swirling through the blender I ended up with a gorgeous, incredibly smooth, not too tart-not too sweet summer drink. I closed my eyes and savored the icy perfection slide down my throat. The afternoon was saved! So get to the grocery store and stock up not on the drink mixes in the can but frozen packets of fruit pulp. The hispanic section will have a treasure trove of flavors so have a party and experiment. Even if it’s only the two of you! Guaranteed fun and you’ll be nice to the world.
While working out this morning I shook and shimmied to the great beat of some Puerto Rican Christmas carols, known as “aguinaldos”. The Christmas season in Puerto Rico begins after Thanksgiving and ends mid-January. It’s a fabulous tradition. When Cynthia and I were little, before Tommy and Pamela were born, Mama would pack us up the day after Christmas and off we would go to Puerto Rico to spend more of the holiday there. Dollys, tea sets, bicycles, all new toys would be left behind and we didn’t mind one bit. No, ma’am. We knew it was one great, big, joyous celebration right around the corner. With MaryJane shoes buckled on our feet and white gloves on our hands we boarded our Pan American jet giddy with excitement and anticipation of the celebration to come. Not only were we going to partake of some killer food but on the sixth of January the Three Kings, Baltazar, Melchor, and Gaspar, would come on their camels in the middle of the night and leave us gifts at the foot of our beds. We, in turn, would leave succulent hibiscus blossoms and fresh grass in shoe boxes for the camels. Just as we had left cookies and milk for Santa at home. Life size dolls with glossy hair and starched dresses were greeted early morning with squeals of delight from Cynthia and me. Then we would inspect our shoe boxes to see if the camels had appreciated our offerings. “Mama! Mama! They liked the flowers best! Look! They’re gone!”
The house was a constant stream of activity with relatives, friends and neighbors stopping by to drop off a little gift and maybe have just “una copita”, just a little cup. All through the holiday season were “parrandas”, surprise Christmas serenades. Very late into the night friends and relatives would gather at a house and surprise the sleeping occupants with rousing song complete with all the sound effects from shaking tambourines and maracas, the whoosh-whoosh-whoosh of guiros and my favorite, the white wood claves or palitos. People, I’ve got to tell you. These were not songs like Silent Night or Little Drummer Boy. They were get down, shake yuh groove thang, happy dance in your pajama songs! The party would be served the island’s version of eggnog called a “Coquito”, they’d take some or all of the hosts and move on to the next house, the party getting bigger and bigger into the wee, wee hours of the morning. We were never allowed to go with the party but it was enough just to have a band of merry makers singing and dancing, having the time of their lives as we watched from above. As we got older we still weren’t allowed to go on with the parranderos into the dark night but we were allowed to partake of the holiday drink, the Coquito. It’s luscious, rich and will become one of YOUR holiday favorites. Buen Provecho!
There is a bit of controversy involved with the Coquito. Some people say that if you add eggs it’s not Coquito but Ponche. The second cookbook I have and treasure was given to me by my aunt affectionately named “Madrinita”, little godmother. This cookbook, “The Art of Caribbean Cookery”, was copyrighted in 1957 and 1963. The author, Carmen Aboy Valldejuli, calls for eggs in her recipe. It’s just not an issue for me. I don’t add raw eggs because so many people are squeamish about it. My recipe has evolved over the years to an easier process and also delivers a much more coconut-y punch. Salud, amor, dinero, y tiempo para gastarlo!
2 15-oz cans cream of coconut, NOT milk, and I use Goya
2 12-oz cans evaporated milk
1 1-liter bottle Puerto Rican white rum
In a saucepan combine cinnamon sticks, cloves, ginger, water and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer until water has reduced to one cup, 8-10 minutes. The water will be kind of brown and will smell terrific! Strain, discard cinnamon, ginger and cloves and let the dark water cool to room temp.
In a blender combine cream of coconut and evaporated milk and puree until well combined and smooth.
Pour the contents of the blender, dark water and rum into a clean container. I use an empty jug of water, gallon size.