Monday, October 29, 2012

Once a Bridesmaid ... Always a Blogger

royal wedding miami
Move over William and Kate, here comes Babushka's wedding!

My sidekick Bohemian Babushka up and made this crazy decision to get married next year.  This gorgeous and funny-as-hell Cubanasa grandma is hitting the altar for the third time with a gringo!  It's his first wedding, so ya tu sabes. When she asked me to be her Maid of Honor, I was moved but also piqued by the irony of the singleton helping to arrange a marriage ceremony and reception.

So what's a girl to do? Well, of course, the FIRST step was to set up a Pinterest board, which has been an experiment in a more visual style of blogging. This is no ordinary collection of images; I try to write pithy and quirky captions to capture the spirit of our blogging personalities.  And Pinterest isn't all Martha Stewart Rachel Ray wannabees ... there are even boards about condoms! (Practice safe sex, ladies!)

Pinterest is "owned" by a largely female audience. It is a wonder women across the world aren't menstruating at the same time because we spend so much time on the addictive social network!

Can a maid of honor say vagina? This one might.

Babushka originally wanted to get married in Legoland -- yes, she's marvelously crazy that way -- but now we're focused on Miami where most of the familia resides. And with me at the helm and Babushka taking the vow with her Sweetie, you know this aint gonna be no ordinary blah and boring shindig, like Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding -- that was a serious yawner -- this social media Conga line is going to shake up the 305!

I've never been a Maid of Honor dishonor before! Even in family weddings, I was always an observer on the sidelines. It's a refreshing change of pace to be invested in a friend's happiness instead.

Follow the shenanigans of las dos locas on Facebook, Pinterest and on Twitter with the hashtag #babuboda.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Celebrity Salami Breaks Bread with Dan Marino

Cheese Pizza at Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza
Antonio Bandeja was thrilled to his cured core with the cheese pizza.

On Thursday, I was invited to the "friends and family preview" of a new Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza in Coral Gables.  My sidekick, celebrity salami Antonio Bandeja, came along, as he was very eager to enjoy a bite of the cauliflower pizza.

As it turns out, some handsome, blue-eyed, tall, deep-voiced guy named Dan Marino, who is apparently a rather famous football athlete -- played with the Miami Dolphins, who knew? -- broke bread with us and Anthony Bruno, founder of the chain.

I confessed to Dan Marino that I didn't know much about football.  An ex-boyfriend of mine was a big fan of the Buffalo Bills, but all that taught me was an appreciation for chicken wings -- which fed me through graduate school, one stick of butter and bottle of hot sauce at a time, baby.

Well, this Dan Marino guy was quite nice and eager to share an incredible spread of salad, meatballs, pizza, succulent ribs and his namesake Eggplant Marino with Antonio and I.  Anthony Bruno was in the da house also, and we truly felt like la famiglia.

It took some convincing, but celebrity salami did warm up to Dan Marino.    You know, being stuck between two hunky, gorgeous Italian men before a big meal ... wait a minute, is this 50 Shades of Marinara?

The Eggplant Marino is baked not fried. {Insert bad sophomoric joke here.} 

I'm really glad there's a new Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza in Coral Gables for two very important reasons.  One, I just moved nearby, and I absolutely adore their salad. I have said it before and I'll say it again, something so simple is impossible for me to replicate at home and I want to just bathe in the salad dressing -- the perfect tango of olive oil and vinegar.

Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza Salad
Who said Italian food is all bad carbs?

Reason number two: they have a Meatballs and Martinis night, which is what every single woman should put on her agenda. Don't tell me you can't find balls in Miami!

More importantly, Antonio was pleased. But he got a little stuck up and didn't even give Dan Marino an autograph.  Bad salami! Who does he think he is, Kim Kardashian?

This dish is like 50 Shades of Italian Ribs.  "Lascivious" is putting it Catholic-nun modestly. Expect finger-lickin' buono!

Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza in Coral Gables opened today to the public. I'm not kidding about the salad. And the ribs are seriously to die for, redolent of rosemary and smothered in red and green hot Italian men ... oops, I mean peppers.  Go some time and you might find Antonio Bandeja enjoying a bite or two of the vegetarian dishes -- he doesn't like to eat his pepperoni cousins.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Yo Soy Hialeah: An Honest Hustle

Part two of several stories about Hialeah.

Carlos Miller interviewing a Hialeah street vendor.

The second installment of Yo Soy Hialeah focuses on the city's street vendors. Carlos Miller and I spent a day seeking out the hard working peddlers in some of Hialeah's busiest intersections.  Filming wasn't easy.  We had to dash in between cars and trucks as they pounded the pavement.

None of the men we interviewed spoke English. We have a few explanatory subtitles in the video but you can read about their lives below.


Click here if the embedded video doesn't appear.


Marcos Estopiñan (a.k.a. "El Manicero," or peanut vendor), is a former trapeze artist from Cuba who worked with Ringling Brothers Circus in the U.S. until an injury halted his career.  He's still quite the performer though, peddling peanuts in a hairy intersection while entertaining commuters with his upbeat personality and singing.

Marcos lives in Little Havana with his wife and commutes to Hialeah on a motorcycle. His daughter is studious and is looking forward to college, although he makes only $50 a day at his job.  Marcos works without an official street vendor's license.

Alberto from Nicaragua sells bottled water and churros (fried-dough pastry covered with sugar) at another busy intersection.  He was fined $350 for not having a license; it took him seven days to recoup that fine. He told us that street peddling isn't easy, because many people who drive by can be nasty, although some are nice.  "It's risky dealing with so many cars," he said.

Despite a meager income, he still manages to help out his family in Central America.  Alberto has been living in the U.S. for five years and became a street vendor because he couldn't find any other kind of employment.

Gilberto immigrated from Cuba in 1994. The former bus driver worked as a welder in the U.S. until a motorcycle accident left him in a coma for eight days and an injured hand. Since the accident took place on the road, he was ineligible for workmen's compensation and other work-related benefits.

Like El Manicero, Gilberto has a positive outlook and banters with potential customers even if they don't purchase any of his wares, which on the day of the shoot were solar-powered dashboard clocks. 

Gilberto had a protégé of sorts -- 18 year-old Johnny who claimed he was from Argentina, although he had no accent. Johnny told us he likes to work hard and make an honest living instead of a dishonest one. "I like to be decent with folks. I try to sell these little things to eat," he added. "Because if not I won't have food." On the day of the shoot, he told us he was saving money to get his $90 street vendor's permit and that he really wanted to go to college.

Documenting the lives of these men was a very challenging; we had to improvise and get these strangers to open up to us.

It was also humbling.

Their determination and fortitude made me gain a new appreciation for hard working immigrants who just want to make an honest living.  This is just as much part of the real America for me, beyond the hallowed halls of white collar kingdoms.

My father, a Cuban immigrant, thankfully found work here as an architect -- he revalidated his license to practice in the U.S. -- but I remember hearing stories about Cubans who were successful professionals in Cuba, forced to step down to eke a living during the initial exodus.  Some would stand on street corners under flight paths to clean windshields.

While researching the topic of Florida's street vendors, I came across a Virginia-based organization that filed a lawsuit against the city of Hialeah.

"In October 2011, the newly created Institute for Justice Florida Chapter filed a lawsuit in state court on behalf of street vendors.  These vendors are challenging a law passed by the city of Hialeah, Fla. (located near Miami), that not only makes vendors’ work more dangerous by forcing them to constantly be on the move rather than vend in one location, but also is purposefully anticompetitive—making it impossible for vendors to compete against politically powerful brick-and-mortar businesses."

Read more at the Institute for Justice.

So next time you see those silly looking plastic flower clocks on a dashboard -- they do seem to be ubiquitous in Miami -- think about these hard working men.

Monday, October 15, 2012

It's Never Just About the Fish

bull shark
Photo by Pterantula via Flickr.

I am still trying to wrap my mind around what happened yesterday. Sure, I hooked, fought and released a bull shark estimated at 200 pounds, but there was a revelation when subjecting my body to this, my body pressed into service of this endeavor, maintaining the mental focus and willpower to see it through.

This was woman-against-beast -- or perhaps more appropriately -- reeling the beast-within to a perfect moment of surrender where two forces of nature bow to their own strengths and weaknesses. Through that thin, braided line, I connected with the fish as it taught me something about a part of myself I don't normally tap into. It was an awkward dance, to be sure -- my biceps burned, my spine lit up, my thighs tightened -- all to reel up this formidable animal.

Somehow, I managed. I feel grateful for this battle and I thank the shark, because it had to fight my courage and my body, which is nothing frail or tiny.

For me, fishing is a metaphor of life, of not giving up and of eternal patience, of communicating with this sheer, literal force that pushes me out of my comfort zones.

Sure, I had a big fish at the end of my line yesterday. But what I really caught was my strength within.

This fishing adventure took place in the 10,000 Islands off of Chokoloskee, Florida.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Silicone Bitch: Happy Blog Birthday, SxSe, 30-Day Blog Challenge and More!

Summer was rather slow for Silicone Bitch but the fall season is picking up to a nice pace.

Sex and the Beach celebrated its 5th anniversary in 2010. Where else but on Miami Beach? This month, the blog is seven years old. Maybe we'll throw another party at the decade mark. Photo by Liam Crotty.


But before we get into the latest news, behold the beautiful graphic to the right. Miami New Times must love me long time, because they nominated Sex and the Beach plus my Twitter account for Web Awards!  You may recall that Silicone Bitch is an offshoot of the Silicon Beach column I used to pen for Riptide.  Well, I heart Miami New Times, too!

If you heart me and the exhilarating content I have been providing for donkey's ages, perhaps you'll kindly vote for me under the Miami, Art/Culture and Twitter (@vicequeenmaria) categories.

Thanks for the nominations, Miami New Times! I couldn't have asked for a better birthday gift, since Sex and the Beach celebrated its seventh anniversary on October 5th. (Funny, I forgot about it.)


SxSe attendees none the worse for wear during Sunday's late breakfast in Key Largo.

A group of social media friends got together at the end of September for the 5th annual SxSe, South Florida's oldest continuing tweetup tradition and unconference. This year, the group consisted mostly of social media professionals, many of whom discussed the finer points of Google + and other topics while sipping cool cocktails under the palm trees.  South by Southeast just so happened to take place at the tail end of Social Media Week; however, the two events were unrelated.

Prior to the weekend, yours truly, @alexdc and @lisadsparks presented lectures on blogging for business, mobile marketing and email marketing, respectively.  The event?  The Florida Keys Digital Media Conference -- a first of its kind social media educational event in Monroe County.

Florida Keys individuals and businesses connected with Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and even Tampa peeps over the subject of social media. Kudos to Shirley Wilson (@keys2bsocial) for organizing a great conference.

But back to the party, which coincidentally happened to piggy back on the conference. SxSe headquarters was the elegant but laid-back Key Largo Hilton, where lazing in the crystal-clear water beach was the order of the day, even if we did talk shop.  The tweetup took place at The Pilot House Glass Bottom Bar, where we enjoyed Pirate's Booty, an award-winning rum cocktail by owner Don Brown.


Another great social event is coming up this week: the second annual SeaTweetup social media conference and gathering aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines. Sea Tweetup is sold out, so you can't sail on this particular love boat, but stop by the EPIC hotel on Thursday for a Bon Voyage party at Area 31.


A bunch of South Floridians heard the call by @alexdc of Social Media Club South Florida to get disciplined about blogging.  When it comes to blogging, consistency is key. You gotta do it and stick to it, just like any fitness routine. Below is the list of participating bloggers, some of whom are businesses.  Yours truly isn't part of the challenge, but I'll be cheering everyone on from the sidelines.

Follow the blogging shenanigans on Twitter as well with the hashtag #SMCSFBlogOff.

(We hope Rick from South Florida Daily Blog will forgive us for this long reading list!)


Left to right: Joe Martinez, Hanae Kimura and Cynthia Seymour discuss Google + at Social Media Club South Florida in a panel moderated by Liza Walton.

Social Media Club South Florida is in full swing. We met earlier this month to discuss Google + and have a November meetup scheduled the second Tuesday of the month about Wordpress. Yours truly is on the board now but as always, I encourage you to join us for free, educational networking meetups. Follow Social Media Club South Florida on Facebook.

Refresh Miami, a web and tech meetup community, has also started gearing up for a great season.  Learn more at Refresh Miami.

Did you know the "Fantastic Four of Miami" has a tech startup that's all about social shopping?   Read more at Startropica.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Yo Soy Hialeah: Stephen's New York Style Deli

Part one of several stories about Hialeah.

Stephen's Restaurant is located at 1000 E. 16th St. in Hialeah.

It's a rather long story about how I got back into filmmaking, but suffice it to say that Comcast liked my treatment and gave me an extraordinary opportunity to explore my passion for documentary storytelling.

Project Open Voice involves a handful of producers like myself in cities across the country who are documenting local life, all in a commitment to broaden the discovery of local content. Hialeah is one of six trial markets. The other five include: Peterborough, NH; Medford, MA; Philadelphia, PA; Houston, TX; and Fresno, CA.

My first video, a three-minute documentary produced in collaboration with Carlos Miller of Magic City Media, focuses on Stephen's Deli in Hialeah. Most people think of Hialeah as a very Hispanic community and no doubt that is exactly what it is today. But the city wasn't always about misspelled Spanglish signs and botanicas selling spiritual cures. Prior to the first Cuban exodus, Hialeah -- and Miami for that matter -- was totally gringo.  Think "Miami-uh" in a Southern accent instead of "Mayami" in a Spanish voice.


Click here if the embedded video doesn't appear.


Stephen's Deli is an oddity in a predominantly Latino community. The establishment, which I reckon serves the best pastrami and corned beef south of Katz's in New York City, is happily caught in a time warp in ever-evolving South Florida.

Founded in 1954, Stephen's Deli is located in the former Jewish garment industry district of Hialeah, not far from the iconic race track.  Jack Frisch, a former New Jersey businessman who went to culinary school after retirement, purchased the business from its second owners not long ago.  A little kitchen remodeling and a dining room facelift left this vintage establishment freshened up, but still old school, unpretentious and authentic.

Chef Henderson Biggers has been working at Stephen's for 53 years and still slices corned beef the old fashioned way. Fortunately, Carlos and I were able to coax the camera shy chef out of the kitchen.  As you hear him talk about the old days, you can almost envision hungry garment district workers lining up around the street corner for sandwiches, matzoh ball soup and potato latkes.

I'm very grateful for this interview, because you don't come across a Chef Biggers every day in Miami-Dade. Ditto regarding the corned beef on rye, which I have enjoyed several times since my first visit while Sinatra croons through the dining room's speakers.

Sandwiches are serious business at Stephen's.

Reasonably priced, Stephen's is a true mom and pop place, blessed by a goddess of good nosh. In Miami Beach, the glory days of Wolfie's, Rascal House and Arnie and Richie's Deli are long gone.  Sadly, those restaurants have been replaced by corporate franchises and concrete condos. Isn't it ironic then that Miami's best pastrami and corned beef is served in la cuidad que progresa?

People seem to stick to Stephen's like the food sticks to your ribs.  There's no high turnover here.  Several servers I spoke to had been working at the restaurant for over fifteen years. Customers admitted to being even more decades-long loyal. In fact, every time I've returned, I've seen familiar faces enjoying their New York style deli treats.

Something else makes Stephen's an anomaly east of the Palmetto -- unlike many places in Hialeah, aqui se habla ingles -- English only -- but with that warm hospitality that all good folk share, right?

Stephen's is open for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday from 6 am to 3 pm and is well worth the drive if you're far from the neighborhood.  Take an extra long lunch and tell your boss you're blaming it on the pickles.

See the original post in the YO SOY HIALEAH website.  All of my documentaries were chosen to be broadcast on Video on Demand in Comcast's Hialeah territory.