Thursday, May 13, 2010

Start Splainin, Lucy!

My cooking companions returned from Cuba (can you believe it!) with a boatload of memories! The trip was a humanitarian mission sponsored by a local synagogue. While there, they did manage to tour this beautiful country, which is still a snapshot of itself from 50 years ago. They report that the architecture is amazing, the vintage cars (many in pristine condition) are incredible, the music enjoyable, and the people are warm and engaging.
One stop along the way was to a cigar factory where a charming woman by the name of Milagros (Miracle in English) demonstrated the fine art of hand-rolling cigars. Milagros, is known as a “torcedores” and has been rolling cigars for 43 years and proudly touts that she can easily roll 125 cigars in one day. My frolicking friends’ videoed her demonstration and we watched it after dinner. Milagros was, of course, speaking in Spanish, but one of the two frolickers is fluent in Spanish so she translated.

The process is very traditional (passed down from the “Indigenous” people) and it begins with collecting and drying leaves - for at least two years -- hung from poles in thatched-roof houses. Different leaf types, naturally, produce different flavors. Once dried, the leaves are crumbled and collected in an outer “sauve” (soft) leaf and placed in a hard-wood form press for 15-20 minutes. Milagros instructs that the veins of the leaves cannot be twisted during this process because twisting would inhibit proper burning, that, in turn, would hamper the Cuban cigar smoking experience (and that would be a tragedy!). The seams of the newly rolled cigars are sealed with a plant gel and the newly rolled cigars are then cut to an equal size. Once cut, the top is sealed with a “media luna” (half moon) leaf and the end is sealed with a full-circle leaf. Milagros explains that she talks a bit with tourists, but since she is paid by the cigar, she doesn’t dilly-dally and prefers to get right to work. While there, my friends also got a lesson in the art of smoking these forbidden fruits …how much fun is that! One reason why Cuban cigars are so expensive is because they are all hand-made…now you see why!
The Cubans supported the former Soviet Union during the Cold War which is why Cuban goods, including cigars, are banned in the United States.

The Cuban color-coding of vehicle license plates is borrowed from the former Soviet Union, and this system serves as a way for the government to keep tabs on how, when and where a driver can use their car. I include some photos of the cars that line Cuban streets.

On Tuesday evening we had sautéed, boneless chicken thighs with a lemon/wine reduction, served over a bed of spinach and roasted fingerling potatoes (the foodie of the three can make a gourmet meal out of any unlikely group of ingredients). Of course there was wine and we lamented that we should have had mojitos in homage to the trip. During dinner we enjoyed a slide show of photos taken during this once-in-a-lifetime excursion set to a background of fun, Ricky Ricardo-type music. I was vicariously transported!

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