Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Taste of Miami

Traveling to my grandmother's house in Miami is forever tied to the taste of flaky cuban bread and pastries from the bakery around the corner.  I remember sitting in Abuelita's kitchen staring into the pristine white box and debating which piece I wanted, the savory pastellitos de carne or the sticky-sweet guava. I would perch in the booth of her 50's-style diner table and trace the outlines of orange and yellow boomerangs printed on the top of her overcrowded table. I struggled not to get crumbs on her piles of newspapers and magazines, her bulk boxes of cookies and crackers, or her repurposed coffee tins filled with odds and ends.

From second grade through fifth grade we lived close to Miami and I could look forward to fresh pastries every week or so.  Once I actually got to spend an entire week with just my abuelita and my uncle and we walked to the bakery together so I could pick out my own box from the tiny room's glass-covered display. 

Then we moved.  Oh, when she visited, my abuelita did try to bring a box of treats with her on the plane, but cuban baking doesn't travel well. Instead of crisp and flakey, the bread and pastries were soft and flat.  The taste was the same, but the texture just wasn't.

It was over three years later that we managed a trip to Miami and everything was just as wonderful as I remembered.  But over the years those trips have become very infrequent. The one consolation is that anytime anyone in my family makes the trip, they bring home an assorted box of pastries and a loaf of bread and for a brief time I have that taste of Miami.  

This past December my mom went to Miami to celebrate my abuelita's birthday. She went without us because, as adults, my sister and I do have jobs and responsibilities of our own.  Sadly, there were no pastries to be had on that trip for my mother.  Abuelita can't walk as much as she used to. The one-stop convenience shopping that all of us are used to at a giant super-store is simply more practical for her now.  She and my mother did plan a trip to the little bakery down the street, but time ran away from them. They never made it before my mom had to head back to the airport, back to her daughters and work and normal life. When I picked my mom up from the airport, I was just glad she made it back safely. 

A part of me was disappointed that I couldn't have that taste of Miami this year.  Eventually, I searched the web for a recipe that I might be able make. I'm no cook! Oh I cheated big time: prepackaged puff pastry dough and prepared guava paste are my new best friends.  But there is no cheat for the savory meat filling, for that I had to bite the bullet and just make it from scratch.  (For the curious, I chose this recipe by "Three Guys from Miami") And it worked!  Why did we never do this while I was growing up?  OK, so the taste isn't quite the same and I overstuffed the guava pastries, but it was so close. And I did it myself!

I'm wondering now if I have the guts to attempt to bake a loaf of bread.

Three Guys from Miami Cook Cuban

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