A Little Miami Fusion in the Heart of Birmingham!

Luis Delgado, owner and operator of Miami Fusion Café in Downtown Birmingham, stands by the door that he refurbished for his new restaurant.

I lived in Puerto Rico from the ages 7-12, and while the island itself held many great memories growing up, the food always bring back so many vivid ones.  I remember going to our church fair and looking forward to getting bacalaitos – cod-fish fritters.  I recently had one in Birmingham and it took me directly back to the church fair when I was 9 years old.  Amazing how food can do that to you.

When I met Luis Delgado, he had his business – Miami Café – operating out of gas station in Alabaster.  I remember going to visit him with my friend, Luis Fernandez to talk to him about participating in Fiesta – Alabama’s largest Hispanic cultural event, as a food vendor.  We enjoyed an amazing lunch that day and I was completely sold on his food from that moment on.

The Miami Fusion Café sign went up in March. A nice addition to the city of Birmingham backdrop!

Fast forward to this past week…Luis has been hard at work since last October, converting the old Cameo Café in downtown Birmingham into his new Miami Fusion Café location!  I’ve been following his short Facebook videos on the progress and challenges of opening a restaurant.  He’s always so honest, and puts it all out there for you to see.  I love that about him.  Many people have been anxiously awaiting the grand opening and that will finally happen on Monday, May 22nd to the delight of many – me included!  I work within walking distance of Luis’ new location and I cannot wait to try everything on his menu!

I was fortunate to be able to attend the soft opening this past Friday.  When I arrived a little after 11 a.m., there were just a few people sitting in the restaurant enjoying their food.  I was taking photos as I entered the Café so that naturally drew a little attention.  I went to the counter and Roxie was ready to take my order and make recommendations.  I thought about going for the Roasted Port  as she suggested, but I remembered seeing a photo of a sushi roll on Facebook and I thought…now THAT’S something you don’t typically see in a Caribbean style restaurant!  So I ordered the Cuban CariMaki Roll and Roxie seemed pleased with my choice!

The yellow and red colors really pop with the art deco design reminiscent of Miami night life!

While I waited for my food, I walked around the restaurant taking photos and spent some time speaking with Luis’ mother – Maria Teresa.  She took me around and showed me some of the artwork displayed in the restaurant and told me there is more to come.  We talked about the art deco style design of the restaurant and also the colors selected.  I love the gold tones of the walls and the red accents in the booth seats.  It gives the store front a tropical vibe.  Later, when Luis was out from the kitchen, he told me and a few other patrons about how he built the bars and added the art deco embellishments by hand.  He also created the new door for the store, after which he commented…”that’s why this took so long!  I did all of this by hand!”  I told him the love and care he put into this place is so evident!  Luis also talked about how he wants to make the bar I was sitting at an active one where maybe one month he is making Cuban sandwiches so people can see how it’s done and then another month serving up ice cream with tropical flavors like tamarindo and mango.  He completely had me at tamarindo…another great memory of Puerto Rico for me!

Cuban CariMaki Roll – first time I’ve had the pleasure of trying this and it was incredible! The sweet plantain on the top was an unexpected surprise flavor!

My food arrived and all I can say is – OMG!!!!  The Cuban CariMaki roll is made with Cuban palomilla steak, tomatoes, lettuce, avocado and grilled onions.   It is topped with sweet plantains which is that surprise flavor you are not expecting when you pop one of these into your mouth!  As I was eating, people were coming into the store and trying to decide what to order and many saw my plate and walked over to have a look.  I know the roasted pork plate was popular on Friday but I do believe my oohing and aahing sold quite a few CariMaki rolls too!

In addition to the main courses, like Masitas, Mofongo and Cuban sandwiches, there are a number of sides you have to try as well.  Several people ordered the tostones, which are green plantains that have been flattened and double fried until they are golden brown with a side of mojo sauce.  Fried Yuca sticks were another favorite – also described as a Caribbean style French fry.  And don’t forget the empanadas – fried pies with your choice of chicken or beef!  I could make a meal out of empanadas alone!

Finally…if you have a bit of a sweet tooth there are some great options to try.  First, the Jesus Cake – also known as Tres Leches (Three Milks) cake and Guava pastry.  You can’t go wrong with either…which is why I got both!  I watched someone say they were just going to take a few bites of the Jesus cake and before you knew it that cake was gone!  If you like creamy desserts, this is the one for you!  The guava pastry is one of those foods that takes me back to Puerto Rico.  Very flaky crust with just a hint of sweetness.  Great with Cuban coffee!

I always love the tidbits of information you get at events like this too.  Luis talked about searching for a man named Fernando who makes the Cuban bread for him.  Fernando was doing other work but when he came to the restaurant it was clear he missed making bread and came on board.  Bread is a huge factor in making Cuban sandwiches!  My next meal at Miami Fusion Café will be a Cuban sandwich…I already know it!  Luis also has big plans for the upstairs of the restaurant with catering and events.  His mind is always twirling with ideas!

After taking a few more photos of the foods leaving the kitchen and talking to a few more patrons, it was time for me to go.  I talked again to Roxie,  who brought me a large bag so I could take my Jesus Cake and guava dessert home.  She said she looked forward to seeing me for lunch on Monday with my husband.  I told her I couldn’t wait to come back often!  We joked how I had camped out at the bar area while I was there.  I told her I didn’t want to leave and that I needed a plaque with my name claiming that spot as my own!   She replied, “well, you’re family when you come in…we want you to stay!”

This was the perfect way for me to leave Miami Fusion Café on Friday.  I felt like family the minute I walked into the restaurant.  I know you will too, so please do yourself a favor and go by if you are in Birmingham.  Luis and his staff are anxious to serve you!

P.S.  On Saturday morning, Luis and his wife, Samantha, added to their lovely family with the birth of a daughter!  Quite a big week for the Delgado family…the restaurant opening and now a new baby!  Congratulations to Luis and Samantha and best wishes for great success with Miami Fusion Café!

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Mexican Mother’s Day

My mother – Barbara Zuniga – pregnant with me. I think this photo was taken late 1958 or very early 1959.

Today is Mother’s Day…in Mexico!  It’s always on May 10th, unlike in the US where it falls on the 2nd Sunday in May.  Living in the states…we have always celebrated Mother’s Day on the 2nd Sunday but this year I was aware of more posts than usual from my Mexican friends on social media.

It made me think about Mother’s day celebrations in Mexico, so I did a little googling this afternoon to see what I could find out about Mexico’s celebration.  In truth, it’s much identical to the US celebration – children honor their mothers with gifts of flowers and food on this day, much like we will do on Sunday here in the US.  Restaurant reservations are at an all time high – just like here.  Looking back on the origins of the day are rather interesting though.

In 1922 the idea of having Mother’s Day in Mexico was brought into the country from the US with mixed reviews.  However, it is said that the government, media and Catholic Church got involved and set the date as May 10.  In 1940, the wife of Mexico’s President Manuel Avilla Camacho declared May 10th a holiday and made it a state sponsored celebration.  An interesting custom emerged from this too from the government.  Disadvantaged women were invited to stores to pick a free gift.  In 1942, the government did something even more interesting.  They returned the sewing machines to women who had pawned them and then were unable to repay the loans.  This cost the pawn market approximately $160,000!  It was seen as a great gift though since these women used the sewing machines to help provide for their families.  This was reported in Time Magazine.

The box of photos my sister and I went through last fall at her home in North Carolina – many of these photos I had never seen before. I believe the box belonged to my late Aunt Gail – my mother’s sister.

Today though…I’m thinking of my mother and the life she has lived.  I’ll do this again on Sunday when we have lunch together, but today I’m getting a head start if you will.  When I visited my sister, Kanista, last year in North Carolina, she pulled out a box of old pictures to go through together.  There were several photos I had never seen before.  One in particular was of mom at an event in Cambodia – pregnant with me.  She had on a cute two piece maternity outfit with her hair pulled back and wore cute little sandals.  There were people dancing in the background having a good time.  I know my dad took this photo of her.  She’s smiling and looking off  into the distance.  I wish I knew exactly how far along she was in this photo…how soon I would make my appearance.

People always tell me I look like my mother…it’s such a compliment because when I look at photos like this, she is just so beautiful to me.  Still is…  Feliz día de las Madres!

Me and Mom – Mother’s day last year – 2016

Frida’s Nail Polish and Lipstick – Part Two

My Frida Kahlo doll surrounded by “her” nail polishes and lipsticks.

Last year, right before Day of the Dead, I was browsing through Instagram when I spotted a photo of Frida Kahlo nail polish and I was intrigued!!! Or maybe I should say, I was obsessed! I had to find this polish and as it turns out, lipstick too!!! You can read about this more in my original post – Frida’s Lipstick and Nail Polish.

Last month, I got an email from a young woman interested in finding out more about the Frida nail polish and lipstick.  She stumbled upon my blog post and asked to interview me for an online magazine.  Again, I was intrigued…!!!  We set up a time to talk and I went into my original story and my search for the nail polish and lipstick from this icon in the Hispanic community.

As it turns out…the hunt for the nail polish and lipstick is secondary to the reason finding something that “belongs” to Frida is so important.  That became the focus of our conversation.  Frida has long been an icon of strength, perseverance and independence for many women.  So having a nail polish or lipstick with her iconic artwork or her portrait really seemed to be a way to capture this strength, perseverance and independence for ourselves.

Frida had a unique beauty.  Who doesn’t know about her “unibrow-?”  But even with a unibrow – something that was so defining for her but would have the rest of us reaching for our tweezers…she was mesmerizing to people.  I recall going to Atlanta’s High Museum a few years ago with a friend to view the Frida and Diego exhibit.  I could have stayed for days reading all the descriptions and going through all their art creations.  At the end of the exhibit there were photos of both Frida and Diego.  There was one though…Frida was in a white dress and leaning on a wall.  It was in black and white, of course.  I just remember I stood and stared at it for the longest time.  I had never seen this photo before and she was simply breathtakingly beautiful in this photo.  I couldn’t get enough of it…  And at which point I was saying to myself…”what unibrow?”

Having these different Frida inspired nail polishes and lipsticks seems to be a way to be a little bit  like “Frida” ourselves.  I was becoming fixated again…  So after the interview, I began wondering if I could find any more lipsticks and polishes at my local CVS.  As luck would have it…I found some that I didn’t already have!  So now, I think I have everything that was offered through CVS and that makes me very happy.  And…I have the pictures to prove it too!

Meanwhile…I’m keeping my eyes open to anything new.  Who knows?  Maybe there will be a line of eye shadows next?!

 

Blogging Like Crazy Didn’t Make Me Crazy!

img_3991Today ends 30 days of blogging every day.  Yep!  You read that right!  I blogged EVERY. SINGLE DAY this month!  And…I lived to write about it!

The incredible Javacia Harris Bowser, founder of the See Jane Write networking group challenged the women of the group to #bloglikecrazy for the month of November.  I did this last year and it was a fantastic experience.  I wondered then if I could find enough topics to write about for 30 solids days and I did!  And like anything you do, with practice you get better and ideas come a little easier.

This year the only snag I hit was a pesky sinus infection the week before Thanksgiving which is still hanging on today.  So even though I had some bigger ideas for topics to write about, I didn’t feel good physically and I think it clouded my ability to write on some days.  I chose easier topics to write about and figured I would reserve others for a time when I was thinking more clearly and not as exhausted from fighting the congestion.

I ran into my friend Audrey Atkins yesterday who blogs at Folkwaysnowadays.com and we talked about the bloglikecrazy challenge.  She did the challenge too and we were both excited that we were one day away from finishing!  Check that goal off our list!  Oh, and you really need to check out her blog and her series for this challenge on favorite idioms.  It’s terrific and hysterical!  I learned a LOT about idioms this past month thanks to Audrey!

Back to our meet-up – we discussed how important it is to really plan things out and write ahead of time so you aren’t scrambling at 8 p.m. at night to get a post completed.  I admit, that was me on several nights during this challenge!  But through this process, I’ve thought about other topics I want to explore and write about.  I’ve also been surprised by what people are actually reading vs. what I sometimes “think” will spark interest.  It pays to look at your analytics and see what is catching your readers’ eye!  I’ll be doing more of that as I move forward.

Javacia started See Jane Write to empower women to write and live a life worth writing about.  Thanks so much, Javacia!  It’s a wonderful goal to aspire to and I think by accepting this challenge…I’m on my way!

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Making Tamales on TV!

HICA Tamales!!!

HICA Tamales!!!

Well, today was fun!  I got to make tamales on television and help promote the HICA Annual Christmas Tamale Sale! 

I’ve done TV appearances before to promote the sale but this is the first time I’ve “made” them on TV.  Let me explain why I used quotes around “made.”  Usually, we bring a few tamales to the TV station, along with some Mexican décor.  We set everything up on a table and talk to the host/anchor about HICA’s programs, explain a little about tamales and end with how to buy them.  Today we took a different approach.

Monica Black, HICA’s Communications and Development Associate, arrived at the station equipped with everything we would need to make a tamale on camera.  She along with HICA staff member, Cindy Garcia, brought tamale fillings, masa (tamale dough) already made, corn husks (some already softened), ingredients to make both the red and green sauce for the filling and beautiful talavera plates for display.  Oh!  and they also brought a dozen of each flavor of tamale we are selling along with the tamale pots!  They are so awesome!

Me and Carlos Aleman - getting ready for our 3 segments on ABC 33/40 Talk of Alabama!

Me and Carlos Aleman – getting ready for our 3 segments on ABC 33/40 Talk of Alabama! Photo credit: Cindy Garcia

We made full use of the new studio kitchen at ABC 33/40 today.  Naturally, we couldn’t show the entire process in real-time – we would have been there all day, which we explained.  We were able to show the steps involved and demonstrate how to make an actual tamale from spreading the masa on a corn husk and adding our choice of filling – in this case either pork with red sauce or chicken with green sauce.  Next I showed how to fold the tamale and explained how to place the finished product into a tamale pot – a tamalera – and how to cook them.

Through all this, my fellow board member, Carlos Aleman and I talked up HICA and how this tamale fundraiser helps support the wonderful programs of the organization.  We have been doing this tamale sale since 2003 and sold over 70,000 tamales!  That’s a BUNCH of tamales!!!  This year our goal is to sell 10,000 and hopefully we will meet that goal.  We shall see!!!

Anyway, it was a different TV experience since the first segment was about 4-1/2 minutes long followed by another 2-3 minute segment halfway through the one hour show.  The last segment was at the very end of the show when our wonderful co-hosts sampled their choice of tamales and we did a quick wrap up on how to buy tamales on our website.

Thanks to the folks at Talk of Alabama on ABC 33/40 for such a wonderful experience today.  Y’all were so wonderful to work with, in particular our co-host for the segment, Javante Ingram!  Java has her own special tamale story which she shared with us on air.  And that’s why we love this tamale sale so much…it brings out the stories in people and how important tamales have become in their celebrations and special memories.  Food does that!

A photo from the ABC 33/40 Talk of Alabama website showing the first of 3 videos from the show today.

A photo from the ABC 33/40 Talk of Alabama website showing the first of 3 videos from the show today.

Don’t forget to buy some tamales if you are in the Birmingham area!!!

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Who Has Seen the Wind?

The Better Homes and Gardens Storybook that me and my sisters had as children living in Puerto Rico.

The Better Homes and Gardens Storybook that me and my sisters had as children living in Puerto Rico.

Today was a blustery day…it had me thinking about Winnie the Pooh and the blustery day movie that I used to watch with my kids when they were little.  I told a friend the gray sky and wind made me think of living in Chicago and the way the sky would look right before it would snow.  Of course, that’s not about to happen here right now!  It’s 69 degrees outside and we are in a drought – rain would be a welcomed sight tonight!

The wind also had me thinking about a poem I learned when I was around 8 years old and living in Puerto Rico.  My mother bought me and my sisters a Better Homes and Garden Story Book.  I always loved that book because of all the stories and poems that filled it.  I remember writing my name along with the names of my sisters in the “this book belongs to” section in the front.

I wrote our names in the book - me and my sisters - in case there was any mistake about who the book belonged to!

I wrote our names in the book – me and my sisters – in case there was any mistake about who the book belonged to!

When I was visiting my sister in North Carolina recently, I spotted the book in her bookcase and it brought so many memories back to me!  I was so happy that she had the book and as I thumbed through it a rush of memories came back to me.  In particular, I found the poem “Who Has Seen the Wind? by Christina G. Rossetti.  As I read the poem I told my sister that there was a melody that went along with it and I started to sing it to her.  She had no idea about the melody…

The poem in the book - a short little poem that apparently had quite an impact on me as a child.

The poem in the book – a short little poem that apparently had quite an impact on me as a child.

I’m not quite sure where I heard the melody to the poem.  It may have been one of the children’s records we had and played over and over in our bedroom.  I tried to find it online and but never could find the exact melody that I know and sang to my sister that nigt.  But today, I was humming that tune as I drove downtown at lunchtime.  And tonight we are finally getting that much-needed rain along with the wind…

Who has seen the wind?  Neither I nor you;

But when the leaves hang trembling, the Wind is passing thro’. 

Who has seen the wind?  Neither you nor I; 

But when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.