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Daisy in Her Own Words   back to Daisy's Biography

"Although I was probably not yet three years old, I clearly remember running down the stairs from our apartment to my grandmother's on the ground floor of her two-family house, barging into her bedroom and asking her to make me one of her special breakfasts. Off we went to the kitchen where, even at that very young age, I soaked in the magic of what became my favorite room in the house.

"Abuela's kitchen was an enchanting place. There was never a moment when one of her meals wasn't taking shape on the stove. Salt cod soaked in a sink full of water while a pot of beans bubbled away in rhythm to the pounding of a pestle crushing a mortar full of garlic. My uncle and his family lived around the corner from us and joined Abuela for meals as often as our family did. I have only to close my eyes to see Abuela's long, beautiful dining room table dressed in a pretty white cloth and crowded with platters that held all the makings of a delicious Sunday breakfast. We came home from Mass to find huge platters of chorizo, sweet ripe plantains and huevos vestidos de torero, or "fried eggs dressed like a bullfighter," so named for their ruffled golden edges that resemble the trim on a bullfighter's jacket. Hot loaves of simple bread rounded out the meal and the smell of café con leche perfumed the air. Happy conversation filled the house and my Abuela's beautiful smile lit the dining room as she watched her family enjoy the food she prepared with so much love.

"In summer we visited my maternal grandmother Mama Clotilde in Puerto Rico. Her house was equally magical to someone like me who was absorbed in the making and sharing of food. She grew all her own herbs and beans and raised a flock of chickens. With a yard full of tall trees laden with bananas, mangoes and avocadoes—some the size of a football! Just about everything you needed for breakfast, lunch or dinner was right outside the back door. Mama Clotilde's kitchen bustled like Abuela's. She started the beans very early every morning and by one o'clock the table was ready for lunch with bowls of fluffy white rice, red beans with potatoes and delicious fried chicken, or a beautiful ensalada de bacalao—salt cod and potatoes dressed with lemon and olive oil.

"In those days I believed that everyone spoke Spanish, and that everyone ate as well as I did! As I grew older and interacted with more and more Latino-Americans, I found this celebration of life and family through food was indeed an experience we all held in common. We share strong roots in Europe, a culture that reflects an African influence, and a common religion. Nothing reflects these common bonds as strongly as our food, and no one is more passionate about that food than me.

"People often ask me where I learned to cook. As an adult, I attended the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan to learn classic technique from trained chefs, but I learned to cook at my mother's and grandmother's elbows. I am happy for the experience I gained at FCI, but those days I spent in family kitchens gave me an invaluable grounding in the kind of food that comes from the heart. I think it's amusing that while attending FCI—a bastion of traditional French cooking—the traditional Puerto Rican food I prepared daily for lunch were such a hit. Before long my chef-instructors made it a point to stop by my station everyday around lunchtime to see what surprises—pasteles, mariscada en salsa verde or Paella a la Valenciana—I had concocted that day. These foods sing to me, and they seduced chefs and fellow students alike.

"Latino-Americans are the fastest growing minority group in the United States and our numbers are predicted to increase by 35 % within the next few years. Still, the rest of America has only scratched the surface of our regional cuisines. (Much the same thing happens with other cuisines in this country. "French Cuisine" once meant coq au vin or "pate" before Americans began traveling to France and French chefs started arriving on our shores in droves.) Almost anyone can tell you what paella or chorizo are, but words like yautia, malanga or morcilla are bound to draw blank expressions. But the days when "Spanish" food meant tacos and refried beans are numbered.

"In fact, as people become more intimate with the cuisines of Spain, Latin America and the Islands, the term "Spanish Food" just won't cut it any more. I am writing this book largely to share these wonderful dishes with your, but also in part to clear up confusion some of you, like my childhood friend Rosanne, may have. After running into Roe recently, I invited her to my home for dinner, so we could catch up on old times. When I asked what she would like to eat, she was quick to reply, "Spanish food!" I made a beautiful Spanish meal for her that I was sure would knock her socks off: mejillones rellenos (stuffed mussels), pollo con higos (chickens braised with figs), and saffron rice. She looked at me, puzzled, and said, "I thought we were having Spanish food. You know, rice and beans and pork chops, like your mom used to make!"

Much of the allure for people discovering our cuisines is in what we Latinos consider our "soul food"—the simple, satisfying dishes that my friend remembered from all those years ago. This book is loaded with those treasures, and not just from Puerto Rico and Spain, but from Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Central and South America. Every country has its and it is my distinct pleasure to bring these dishes to you, and show you the diversity in the cuisines of all these countries. I see evidence of a growing fascination with Latin Cuisine everywhere. It is no longer necessary for me to travel to la marketa on Essex Street on the lower east side of Manhattan, or the larger market on 125th Street in el Barrio, as I did when I was a young girl. Like Latino culture and music, Latin food has exploded into the mainstream. You can walk into any modern supermarket and find many of the foods of my childhood. I believe you will have no problem locating the ingredients you need to cook from this book, but I offer substitutions whenever possible, just in case.

"We Latino-Americans are a passionate people. We are passionate about our music, our dance, our heritage and, most certainly, about our cuisine. At the drop of an empanada we can wax poetic about its enticing aromas, bright palette of color and vast array of textures. Until we meet and I can cook a meal for you, I invite you to enjoy this collection of memories and recipes. Pick a recipe or two that sound particularly good to you and prepare them the next time–hopefully soon–that you are together with your family and friends."

Brooklyn, 2005
Daisy Martinez

"...this celebration of life and family through food was indeed an experience we all held in common."

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