Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Fledgling

Photo via Teddy Llovet's Flickr.

A falcon is fledgling on the edge of a dizzying precipice, clumsily flapping its wings. Winds blow hard on the mountaintops, dropping and swirling through the valley below.

As my talons grip the nest, all I see is the infinite sky.

 I'm afraid. Mom’s shrill call echoes in the distance.

And then I woke up.

This morning’s sunrise greeted me with the thought that in two weeks I would celebrate my first birthday without my mother’s living presence on this earth. And although I’ll be 47 years young, it’s perhaps fitting to call it a first birthday.

Every year, she would tell me the story of how I was born. Never why. Just how.



The mundane details: how she packed her hospital bag early to avoid traffic in San Juan; how labor was not as painful as her first three births; how I peed on my brother the first time he held me in his arms; how my ears were pierced; how the delivery doctor told my dad "it's a boy" as a prank.

On the brink of 47, I think I know the “why” now. It’s a why that doesn’t need the clutter of words. It’s a why of soaring through vast open spaces, of being unafraid, of not staying stuck, of peace in the midst of chaos. A why of infinity.

A why of raptor birds perched on cliffs.

“I’m a fledgling too, Maria. I also took a leap into the unknown. Don’t be afraid of living. Don’t be afraid of dying.”

And with those words, my talons let go.

Happy first birthday, mom. It's yours just as much as mine.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Miami Plants A Seed for Healthy Eats

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
Wake up, taste buds! You won't need a rod and reel for this zesty Mushroom Ceviche from  plant-based Temple Kitchen in South Miami.

Last week, a seed was planted in Miami that will hopefully grow into a big tree, spread roots all over town and yield abundant fruit.

The first annual Seed Conscious Plant-Based Food and Wine Festival celebrated all things vegetarian, vegan and organic through a variety of activities, including a dinner hosted by health advocate Alicia Silverstone (you might remember her as the blond from the film Clueless) and a day-long festival in Midtown.

Since I've recently embraced a plant-based diet -- I hesitate to even call it a diet since it's by no means restrictive -- I ventured out to Saturday's festival not quite sure what to expect. The last time I attended the South Beach Food and Wine Festival, or as I like to call it -- the people-watching orgy -- I felt jaded and unsatisfied.

Not so with this gang of plant lovers.

Seed's one-tent wonder was full of enthusiastic folk with contagious energy. Smiles beamed. No 86 on happiness at this unpretentious event. Many of Seed's vendors were local mom-and-pop business owners who manned their own booths and offered samples of fine product.

And by product, I don't just mean food. If you are what you eat, then natural beauty was definitely on the menu here. My friend was drooling at the site of so much eye candy. I almost wiped his chin with a napkin. Oh wait, that was soursop gelato ... never mind.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
Two of the ladies who run Lunchology, a Miami-based gourmet food delivery service. When you eat clean on the inside, you look great on the outside.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
To be fair, I couldn't get my hands off this hot guy's vegan "pop," either. Who can resist that smile? Filippo from Eccolo Pops brings Italian ice and gelato tradition to his shop in Downtown Miami.

But back to the drinks and grub.

To my surprise, there were more businesses advocating healthy eats in Miami-Dade and Broward than I imagined -- a great discovery in a town with agricultural roots. Before urban development pushed plows down to Homestead, South Beach was a fruit plantation. Allapatah was farmland.

The festival's tent was only deceptively small. I thought I'd be there for two hours. I ended up staying five and still didn't try everything. I missed the wine, talks and cooking demos.

What I did thoroughly enjoy were some delicious bites that made me want more. That's right: a culinary tongue tease. For the bed, leave something to the imagination. For the table, leave something for the appetite.

And voila:


Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
Spaghetti squash, lentils and curry from Lunchology. All food made fresh daily.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
The brand name tells it like it is: Pure Brazilian Coconut Water. It's raw with a brief shelf-life. I'll never drink carton or canned coconut water again.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
Live in a condo? No excuses. Grow herbs in these stylish wine boxes.  How? Contact Urban Gro in Wynwood.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
Basil Park had run out of utensils, which was just as well. This marinated mushroom, water chestnut and cilantro iceberg lettuce cup with homemade sriracha was finger lickin' good.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
Marcel had me at his exuberant hello. Or maybe the biceps. Definitely the flavor of Badass vegan artisanal cookies, made with spirulina and chock full of bounce-off-the-wall energy. Created by Badass Vegan founder John Lewis.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
I've always wanted a monk in the trunk.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
Fruit and Spice Park showed off their exotic specimens. Pay them a visit to see the amazing variety of plants grown in South Florida.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
Fennel-icious faux meat Italian sausage and dairy free mozzarella from small-batch delicatessen Atlas based in Hollywood.


Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
Worth a drive to Fort Lauderdale: Green Bar Kitchen's Walnut Taco (served in an orange bell pepper) and spicy Coconut Soup.


Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
The line was long to sample Beyond Meat. I'll have to buy some at Whole Foods.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
South Florida-based OnJuice makes cold-pressed juices for cleanses that also work well as cocktail mixers or refreshing alternatives to soda. Ginger freaks, try the Lemon Aid.

Seed Food and Wine Festival 2014
KIND bars was giving away pay-it-forward flowers.


Seed confirmed for me what I've lived in the flesh the last two months: cooking up a riot of vegetarian alternatives in my kitchen, eating well and abundantly yet shedding pounds. I always loved fruits and vegetables. Now I know they're loving me.

And that's a seed I'd like to see grow not just for me but for the rest of the community.

Seed was presented by Whole Foods. For a complete list of vendors who participated, click here.

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There’s the Dishes and Then There’s the Dishes


I take pride in my humble little kitchen, the operative word being little. My imagination goes wild in this small space where I whip up memorable repasts.

Being single, I most often enjoy meals by myself. Food is my companion. It nourishes and speaks to my body. I like it. It likes me.

Last night's entrée was no exception. Salmon en papillote dotted with organic butter, encrusted with crushed black pepper and sesame seeds. On the side: curried cauliflower purée blended with almond and coconut milk. And of course, something green: sautéed kale with sun-dried tomatoes.

I slowly savored my meal while listening to two unlikely companions, Oprah and Pema Chodron on Super Soul Sunday. Pema spoke about embracing -- with an ever-expanding heart -- all that which makes us uncomfortable. Can you be present with your fears? Can you make room for your discontent?



After dinner, I was tired. A huge pile of dishes stood before me in the sink.

“Ugh.” I thought. “Can I be present with my fatigue? And for Pete’s sake, how can a meal for one person make such a mess?”



I sighed and put on my dishwashing gloves.



And then I chuckled through the suds.



As in dishes, so in life. You see, it’s not that I had an insurmountable number of dishes to clean. It’s just that the sink was too small for the joyful, messy abundance in my creative culinary life. I’m so happy in the kitchen. What else matters?

“Well, if only I had a bigger sink,” I thought.



And then I shook my head. “No what if’s, Maria. Just be present. Keep scrubbing.”


Maybe that’s what Pema meant: it’s not that we have insurmountable fears in life. It’s just that our hearts are too small sometimes to take it all in, fears and all -- those glorious messes that make a meal taste even better.



No wonder fears take a hold of us. They’re stuck in the chambers of a tightly bound heart, with nowhere to go.



Well, you know what? Hey fear: relax, sit down and have dinner with me.

Square footage be damned. Sure, I’d love a bigger sink someday. Heck, why not an enormous kitchen? But my little space will do just fine in this moment as long as my heart continues to grow in the only way it knows -- to infinity.



Photo by Lex on Flickr. Not my kitchen!



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Monday, October 20, 2014

A Dream of Love


I witnessed my younger self walking slowly down a country road.

A wooden fence enclosed a pasture lined with trees that stretched endlessly to the sky. A breeze gently stirred the leaves as golden light peeked through a dense canopy.

I wrapped a blanket tightly around me as I stepped forward to nowhere, amid soft yellow seeds drifting lazily around me.

A faint glimmer in the horizon turned into a reddish beard.

He appeared as tall as the trees in his blue overalls. We had known each other before. We knew each other now.

I looked up at him, dropped my blanket and we hugged.

And then I woke up from this road less traveled, wrapped in my blanket, my naked body still basking in and already missing the plenitude of our embrace.

“What are you waiting for, Maria?” I asked myself. “What are you waiting for?”

Photo by B K on Flickr.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

An Angel on Bus 58

angel drawing
Artwork by yours truly on Flickr.

She tenderly held my face with her bony hands. “You have an angelic face,” she said. Then she kissed my forehead.



“I believe in God,” she exclaimed. Pointing her finger upward, she completed her thought. “God will bless you.”

She was a stranger, among so many, on a bus heading west.

She wouldn’t be a stranger for long when we both stepped off at a busy intersection.

 I gave her my hand to help her down as she clumsily negotiated a small rolling suitcase and walking cane.

I glanced into her eyes.

 She seemed confused.

“Can I have two dollars?” she asked. “I need it to buy a sandwich for lunch.”

I was nowhere near downtown Miami. This seventy-something woman dressed in brown slacks and a matching blouse didn’t look like a crack addict.

Noticing her accent, I asked her where she was from. “I’m from Paris.”

“I don’t have much money in the bank myself,” I said. Reaching down into my purse, I handed her two bucks.

“Thank you,” she said. A smile beamed across her face.



The crosswalk lights were out of order. Cars sped westbound and eastbound over four lanes.



“Here, grab my arm,” I said.



We crossed Bird Road together. And on that journey of just about a hundred feet, I thought intensely about my mother, who had just passed away. While the sky was about to burst, my beautiful mom came to me in the middle of a road assaulted by frantic drivers and surrounded by hideous strip malls.

Across the street, my accidental companion pointed at a gas station. “That’s where I’ll get my sandwich. Thank you. Thank you.”



I pointed south. “I’m going to visit my father,” I said. “Enjoy your lunch.”

We said goodbye.

The rain came down hard and I rushed on foot to the assisted living facility. I’m terrified of lightning.

But another kind of bolt struck me.

I decided then that dad would come home to live with me. I couldn’t bear to see this old Parisian woman begging for a paltry sum of money. I couldn’t bear to see my dad in a place where vestiges of lives were waiting to die in a solitary hell.



Here on earth, with a heart still beating, a once daring life fading away in the same room where my mother had taken her last breath.

I felt a great sense of freedom and I was no longer afraid. Lightning be damned.

Soaking wet, I marched into my dad’s room. “Papi, you’re coming home.”

After my visit, I waited for the eastbound bus back to the Metrorail station.


I wasn’t surprised when I saw her. I don’t believe in coincidences.

“How was lunch?” I asked.

 “Oh,” she replied. “It was delicious. Thank you.”



The bus was loud and she was hard of hearing. I had to lean close and speak loudly in her ear. 

“What’s your name?” I asked. “I’m Mary.”



We shook hands.

“I’m Maria de los Angeles.”

No surprise. No coincidence. My mom whispered a reminder. "Remember, I knew I was going to have a girl named Maria long before you were born."

On the way back, I learned that Mary was indeed from Paris. A widow with only one child who lives in Canada and rarely visits Miami. Mary makes ends meet as part-time seamstress at home, despite her failing eyesight.

"I'm tired," she said. "I'll take a nap when I get home."

As we approached the station, I reached into my purse and handed her another two dollars. 

“Here’s your next lunch, Mary.”

She tenderly held my face with her bony hands. “You have an angelic face,” she said. Then she kissed my forehead.


“I believe in God,” she exclaimed. Pointing her finger upward, she completed her thought. “God will bless you.”



I helped Mary find her transfer bus and we hugged goodbye.

I no longer need to take Bus 58 now that dad is home, saving me 3 hours of travel time. I’ll probably never see Mary again, but I’ll never forget her.

Mary, like my dad and my mother before him, is approaching the last stop, the final transfer. Sometimes you meet angels with wrinkled faces en route. Sometimes they fall from heaven and ask for lunch money in return for a priceless blessing.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

9 Years and Counting

sex and the beach


I was so busy with caregiving that I forgot to observe an important milestone: this humble little blog celebrated its 9th anniversary on October 8.

In 2005, I embarked on a writing journey that would change my life. I found new voices to tell stories while exploring a myriad of topics -- from the banal to the sublime. Since then, I've also mentored others to become rockin' bloggers.

Thanks to readers and fans for making it all worthwhile -- and most importantly -- fun!

Wax and Pap, the first post, still promotes and excellent idea: why not get your pubes plucked while having the outer rim of your cervix swabbed? Sounds good to me!

P.S. For extra naughty and nice editorial tidbits, follow Sex and the Beach on Facebook.

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Sunday, October 05, 2014

Healthy Eats in South Miami

arugula-beet-salad temple south miami kitchen


Living in a region of Florida with high restaurant turnover rates, I often hesitate to recommend great spots for fear of walking up to the CLOSED sign on the door.

Meals of yore, as if from another lifetime in a far away land, come to mind. Restaurants the names of which I can no longer recall. But I do remember the succulent, sage, ricotta, nutmeg raviolis slathered in a wine butter sauce on Lincoln Road. Sometimes when I sniff a sprig of rosemary, I'm transported to that tender osso bucco, braised in red wine, on Washington Avenue.

Further inland, the former Kafa Café -- Miami's then only remaining Ethiopian restaurant -- served delicious, home-cooked style fare, but eventually disappeared from its Midtown location. I miss dipping injera bread into those aromatic and spicy sauces.

I hope that such a fate doesn't befall Temple Kitchen, a neighborhood vegan and vegetarian friendly in the heart of South Miami, an area of Miami-Dade that offers many choices -- from Cuban to French to Portuguese and East Indian -- all in a few squares miles. Temple is Sunset Drive's newest addition. Prior to Temple's opening, only Whole Foods offered similar fare.

Even a carnivore would enjoy the flavor combinations at this plant-based eatery, which bears the slogan "joy to the food."

Joy to the tastebuds would be more appropriate.

Yesterday, I tried the Q & A salad and one of Temple's signature house waters (mint, ginger, lemon). The salad was pure heaven: the namesake quinoa and arugula, with roasted beets, mint, cherry tomatoes, almonds, parsley all served with a beet coulis dressing.

It was pretty too; you could almost call it an altarpiece.

Just out of curiosity, I asked for a sample of the Cream of Broccoli soup. In my younger years, when I poured over classic French cookbooks, the idea of creamy and thick -- without a buttery roux -- would have seem impossible, not to mention preposterous.

I'm not sure if any of the other patrons heard me, but I moaned a little when I took one sip of this simple and silky soup: broccoli, coconut milk and vegetable stock. Creamy indeed but supple on the tongue.

I'm not particularly religious, but I do plan on worshipping at this temple regularly. No penance or kneeling required.









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Saturday, September 20, 2014

My Mother, My Heart


I choose to remember her as she was in this photograph, nearly a decade before I was born. In 1960, she was pregnant with my brother and she already had two daughters from her first marriage. But she knew, even before she married my father, that they'd bring a boy and a girl into this world. She named me Maria de los Angeles while they were dating.

I almost missed the journey in her womb. Or maybe I was biding time elsewhere. Waiting, just waiting. A faint glimmer in her heart until she gave birth to me, three children and three exiles later, when the family finally settled in Miami.

I also missed the political mess of Cuba when my father pressed the shutter. The revolution had just turned in favor of communism. Not long after she paused to capture this pensive moment, she would venture out of the island to an uncertain future.

What was she thinking, I wonder?

Could she foresee the life ahead of her? Could she know, that in spite of some hardships, she would -- by the time she took her last breath -- never lack for anything? Did she know that all four of her children would outlive her? That she would have great-grandchildren? That she would travel? That she would be married to my father nearly sixty years?

Until the specter of Alzheimer's reared its ugly face.

She lost her memory and then, all the good and bad times she experienced -- life's richness -- all slipped away. She died before she died.

The last form of communication I had with my mother was through music. She was breathing, but barely barely conscious in hospice care. I had composed a song for her, which I sang while strumming a small guitar with four strings, about sweet unconditional love -- a love without fear, a love without malice, a love that still overflows out of my heart even though her body returned to the good earth in the form of ashes.

I became a mom to my mom and we were so blessed to have known each other during this lifetime. I'm glad I waited. And I'm glad that the faint glimmer in her heart saw the light of day. Dar a luz -- to give to light -- means giving birth in Spanish.

Caring for you, mamita, was the most challenging yet rewarding blessing.

You took such good care of me and I know you are looking over my shoulder now -- there's a tickle where my angel wings would be attached -- and that you are giving me the strength and courage to open a new chapter in my life, to take care of myself and my father until the two of you meet again.

Of course, I cry. Of course, I miss you. But you left me with a great legacy -- a sense of peace and grace.

You are not far from me, mama. You are forever in my heart.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Sex, Cooking and Libations

lentil soup mis-en-place


Cooking is like sex.  The more creative you get, the better it is.  But don't put too much on your plate if that means you don't have time to really eat and sip slowly.

So behold, my Pinterest page, Mis-en-place, which is a fancy French term for getting all your shit together before you cook something or making cocktails -- it's the best, most organized way to do it, because cooking and mixology, like sex, is all about timing.

First, let's talk about food. Think of it as something beautiful. Almost tantric. The way you design how the food is presented. Just like you choose a perfect scent or lingerie before greeting your lover. You "marinate" yourself in the joy you are about to receive.

That inspiring expectation of what you are about to taste.

One of my ex-boyfriends used to eat like a velociraptor. You know, like his prey was going to run away, never mind if that was a cauliflower instead of a small mammal.

I don't enjoy that kind of eating. I prefer that the energy at the table be low and slow.

Maybe that's why I like cooking soups, because it's a process that takes time and then the home becomes redolent of that delicious, hot and wet thing that's going to go down my throat, its sole purpose to nourish my body and soul.  Oh my!

And what greater pleasure than sharing that with someone I love?

I just don't understand why people rush through pleasure. Never scarf it down, unless, by mitigating circumstances, it's a quickie.  Yeah, sometimes you have to eat a cracker in your car while rushing through traffic. But consuming food shouldn't be an unconscious act.

Where's the fire, otherwise? The way your lover eats might be the same way he or she makes love.

So yes, there's flash cooking. But also there's slow-food cooking. Maybe that's why I like Crock Pots, although I just don't dump everything in there in one big lump. I always caramelize the onions, do a mirepoix  -- that's carrots, celery and other vegetables you sauté before you combine them with other ingredients.  I love the textures of raw before it cooks. I take a nibble of a vegetable here and there.

And then there's the sounds of chopping. The sizzle of the olive oil.

But then it just stews and comes to a lovely climax on the table, with something hot and steamy that's not just in a ceramic bowl -- a prelude to something wonderful.

Cooking is like sex. Think of it as culinary foreplay.

LIBATIONS

The same goes for drinks. Here's a white wine sangria I once made with starfruit (carambola), marinated in dark Appleton estate rum.  It was an amazingly refreshing summer drink but it took two days to make, with blueberries and strawberries in the mix, added on the second day, finished off with some seltzer when poured.  Chilled, of course.

An easy drink to make, but slow and fine.

white-wine-sangria-starfruit

Even single ladies get hectic, but don't forget to slow down as much as you can.  Eat and sip slowly.  Life isn't meant to rush by. What's the point otherwise?

A LESSON FROM A PARROT

My nine-year-old macaw relishes a peanut every morning. I always say to her: "You love your peanut and it loves you." Even though she has had a peanut every morning since she was weaned off her baby   formula, she still rushes eating a peanut like it's the last peanut she'll ever have. It's the survival scarcity model: "I better eat this now before it escapes me or I might not get one tomorrow or some predator eats me first."

But before she gobbles it down, peanut in claw and beak chomping away, she walks slowly from one side of the cage to the other and dips the peanut in water; she does take the time to moisten the peanut shell, which makes me laugh every morning.

And also, she won't eat her regular pelleted food until I sit next down to her by my computer when I start working -- not that I ever sent her to charm school. She stares me in the eye at me and then she eats. It's as if she's asking: "Is it OK? Can we eat now?"

Birds of a feather flock together, I suppose. Or somehow I taught this avian critter good table manners.

Treat your food and drink the same way.  And enjoy it slowly, whether alone or with good folks in your life.

Bon appetit!





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