As I prepared for this meal, I had some time to pore over Cuban cookbooks at my favorite bookstore in town. Schuler’s Books is a magical place where you can have coffee or a lunch at the café while you peruse all kinds of magazines, books, and cookbooks. The world has changed rapidly since the day I sat there thinking of global food. This is the last meal from a specific country that we cooked before the outbreak of Coronavirus or COVID 19 swept into our community.
When I found out that Cuba was our country I got very excited for Cuban sandwiches. I’m quite certain that if you asked my husband what my all time favorite food is he would tell you “hot sandwiches.” I don’t care if they are of a breakfast variety, on a pretzel bun or plain white bread, if it has meat or veggies and melty cheese smooshed between bread, I probably like it. I almost always have The Pioneer Woman’s hot breakfast paninis in my freezer and make them for myself a few times a week (Though we are rationing these now in our time of quarantine).
It didn’t take too much searching for me to learn that there is some significant controversy about whether or not the Cuban sandwich originated in Cuba or in Florida. Since the whole point of this journey around the world through food is to make something authentic from each country, I did what any sandwich lover would do…I made Cuban sandwiches for dinner on Monday, and Ropa Vieja (The national dish of Cuba) the next night.
Ropa Vieja translates as ‘Old Clothes’ – The legend goes that a man who didn’t have any money left to his name shredded and cooked his own clothes in order to feed his family. He put them in the pot and as it boiled he prayed. The clothes mixture miraculously turned into a rich beef stew to feed his hungry family. In these uncertain days we may be needing a few miracles just like this, or at the very least some creativity in expanding our pantry ingredients to be palatable meals.
We opted to leave our old clothes out of the pot this time and instead added beef, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and a host of spices. This is a meal that would be really hard to overcook. I think you could let these ingredients marry in the pot, simmering on low for a long long time and it would only get better and better. If you have access to these ingredients right now, we may be in the perfect space to allow ourselves to make the slow recipes. Oh, to let the stew simmer or to make a loaf of bread that needs to rise for hours upon hours. Find small joys in being able to do the things we so frequently brush off because we simply don’t have time. Now you have the time, cherish it. This season in our country, and around the world, is one that is forcing us to slow down. To spend time with our families, get outside to parks and trails that have been underappreciated, connect with people over the phone or write letters, and take a deep breath.
With so many unknowns and a rapidly changing world, we are not going to be able to continue to cook meals from other countries until we can freely go to stores in search of obscure ingredients, or ingredients at all for that matter. As a family we have been compelled by simulation models such as this one from the Washington Post and conversations with our friends who are in the medical field, to stay home and do our part to control the spread of this virus. So for the next few weeks I will be bringing you a mini series on Instagram and Facebook that I’ll be calling “My Quarantined Kitchen.” I’ll post pictures and stories of the meals we throw together with staples from our pantry in hopes that it may give you some ideas if your supplies are running low!
In this time of social isolation, virtual communities have a whole new meaning and importance. What is hard to do virtually is read people’s emotions, so if you aren’t accustomed to asking for help when you need it, or asking for a pick-me-up if you are just a little blue, you may need to be bold and seek out some support. People are all around you with a willingness to support neighbors and friends, but it’s hard to spot a need on your couch while I sit on mine. Don’t be a stranger, ask for a call if you need some cheer.
Get in the kitchen, make up a new recipe, bake a cake, eat the cookies, and enjoy what is good. For there is still a whole lot of good.