Author Archives: Southern Señora

Fiesta – Celebrating in Full Color / Celebrando a todo color!

This year, Fiesta, Alabama’s largest celebration of Hispanic culture and heritage, turned 16.  It’s incredible to me that this little festival, created so many years ago to award scholarships to Hispanic students, has been around this long!  Every year, the number of people who come out to Linn Park to celebrate the best of all things Hispanic, thrills me!  And then I get nostalgic, remembering previous years and I get excited about the traditions the Fiesta board has kept alive all these years.

This year, the board met early to brainstorm how we would top our 15th anniversary celebration – our Quinceañera.  I love it when the conversation starts, the ideas are tossed out and everyone starts talking at once because of the excitement!  It was like that when we decided on our theme this year – Celebrando a todo color / Celebrating in Full Color!

We’ve always said that when people think of Hispanic culture the one word that is universal in describing it is “colorful.”  It’s a nod to the individual cultures of the many Hispanic countries along with the different foods, music and dance.  It really was the perfect theme for Fiesta!

Each year we try to think of something different to offer our patrons and this year it was all about taking the “Fiesta” to each of the villages.  We engaged local talent to do this, which to me, made the event more personal.  For instance, the mariachi band we invited this year  – Mariachi Premier de America – started performing in the middle of the park at the gazebo.  After they finished their set, they walked to the different villages to sing more songs.  Many of the people working the booths at the different villages don’t always get the opportunity to hear and see what all happens at Fiesta so this was especially nice for them.  I saw a friend a week after Fiesta who was working at the Health & Wellness village and she said the people at their tent were so thrilled to be “serenaded” by the mariachi band and hoped we would do this again next year!  This is how traditions get started…

We also brought a lot of cultural performances back to Fiesta this year.  From the Aztec performers to the traditional Mexican dancers, we had many colorful acts for people to see and enjoy.   The Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama opened Fiesta with their traditional flag ceremony and the march of the Hispanic flags around the park.  My dear friend, Marisela Mendez, got this tradition started several years ago and we love seeing the Girl Scouts – some dressed in their uniforms and some dressed in traditional Hispanic outfits – participate in Fiesta each year.  It’s a personal highlight for me each year.  Next, Banda Azteca Tonantzin from St. Francis Xavier Church in Birmingham drew quite a crowd for their first appearance in front of the main stage.  I don’t believe we’ve ever had anything quite like this at Fiesta and I hope they’ll come back again because there were moments when I was quite moved watching this group perform.

One of the best moments this year was the last song on the main stage.  Our headliner, Frankie J, was performing and started pulling those of us at the back of the stage towards him.  The rest of the board came up too and we danced along with Frankie J. as he sang us to the end of Fiesta 2018.  It was one of those spontaneous moments that you couldn’t recreate if you tried and the entire board walked away elated about this ending.  There are a few videos floating around of us all on stage with Frankie J. and I’ve seen them several times.  I love that those are available for us to relive this wonderful moment from Fiesta 2018!  And on that note, time to start planning Fiesta 2019!

The Vintage Beaded Sweater Made in Hong Kong

This cashmere beaded sweater came from Hong Kong in the 1950s – my dad bought it for my mother on their honeymoon.

I have a beautiful vintage beaded sweater that belonged to my mother.  She gave it to me many years ago when she was going through some old clothes and I tucked it away to preserve it.  It was already showing signs of age and I didn’t want it to get worse, so I bought a good garment bag and stored it in my guest room closet.

This week I was at my favorite thrift store and was about to leave when I made one more pass through the jacket section.  That’s when I spotted it…an off-white colored beaded sweater with a Hong Kong label.  It was gorgeous and in incredible shape and only $4.99…and as I picked it off the rack, that’s when all the memories rushed back to me about the beaded sweater from my mother.

After my parents got married in Cambodia, they went to Hong Kong for their honeymoon.  My dad was always insistent about buying quality items.  I remember one Christmas when I was in high school, I wanted a small stereo and I knew money was tight so found one at a discount place for about $50 and showed it to my mother.  When Christmas rolled around, I didn’t get that discount place stereo.  Instead, my dad went and bought a Magnavox stereo complete with stand and headphones!  I had that stereo for years too.  So I can just imagine my dad in Hong Kong with his new bride making sure it was a memorable experience.  I think this is when he bought mom two beaded sweaters…one in black and one in off-white.  Both were cashmere and both were stunning!  I remember as a little girl putting them on and they were – still are – quite heavy!  The detail in the beads was always amazing to me.  I could not imagine the time it took to create these masterpieces and I would turn it over and over admiring the detail of the beaded design.

These sweaters symbolized glamour to me.  When I tell people about my parents, where and how they met in Bangkok, and then tell them about their wedding in Cambodia, people always comment on how exotic and exciting their lives sounded.  Growing up I loved looking at my dad’s photos of their time in Cambodia and Thailand and also the photos he took of my mother. before all us kids came along.  I especially loved the photos of mom all dressed up for nights out with dad.  My mother had the glamour factor going for her big time in my little girl eyes.  She would wear her blonde hair up in a French twist and dress up in one of her hand-made (to fit her figure) Thai silk dresses or suits.  She would then add her favorite black peau de soie spike heels and on cooler nights out, she would add one of the beaded sweaters.  She looked like Grace Kelly to me.

I know my dad probably took many pictures of my mother wearing these beaded sweaters but I’ve only come across one in the slides that I’ve scanned and archived.  In this photo, mom is at a dinner party in Puerto Rico in the mid-1960s wearing a blue Thai silk dress, the peau de soie shoes I mentioned, and the black beaded sweater.  There is also a photo of mom and her best friend Gladys and another woman (not sure who she is) before they left for the party.  The more I looked at that photo the more I think Gladys is wearing the off-white sweater!  The photo is a little overexposed and while I worked on it to see if I could identify the sweater, I wasn’t able to say for sure.  Still…mom and Gladys were very close and don’t girlfriends share clothes at times?  I’m going with the idea that Gladys IS wearing the sweater.

It’s funny how a piece of clothing can bring back such memories.  I need to talk to my mother about these sweaters again.  We’ve talked before but I need a refresher and I always love watching her face when she reminisces about these early years.  Meanwhile…I’m still on the hunt for a photo of mom in the off-white sweater!

 

 

 

Remembering Easter 2008

Easter 2008 Mimi’s swing photo – this year including Ryan and Lucy!

Easter is meant to be a symbol of hope, renewal, and new life.  Janine di Giovanni

This week I’ve been putting our family’s Easter plans together.  We’ll have lunch at our house on Sunday afternoon, so family members have all been notified about what time to arrive for our traditional Easter spread.  The “big cookie cake” has been ordered as well as the Honeybaked ham.  The dining room table and buffet have been decorated in bright spring colors and on Saturday Eddie and I will try to clean off the deck from all the pollen and other spring “gifts” the trees are sharing this week!

I don’t know what made me look back on photos from past Odom family gatherings.  I was thinking about the Easter egg hunts we used to have with all three of my kids in the house.  Charlie, Anna Marie and Emily would all start at the top of their stairs with a basket and when Eddie and I would give the signal, they’d come running down to see how many eggs they could find that had been hidden in the house the night before.  Every year, we’d find a candy filled egg or two that wasn’t discovered during the hunt a few weeks later.  And every year, Emily would be the one who would win with the most found eggs.

But for some reason, I opened up the 2008 Easter gallery and as I looked through the photos I was filled with so many emotions.  Little did I know what types of stories I was photographing that day only to discover them all these years later.  If memory serves me correctly, it was our last Easter at my in-laws home in Jasper.  The year before, my father-in-law, Glen Odom, passed away in March.  Eddie and his brothers were working on getting their mother, Johnnie, into a newer house with less property to manage.  Most of the photos I took that day revolved around a game of touch football in the backyard that the “kids” were playing.  They first did this at Thanksgiving a few months earlier and wanted to recreate the fun they had that day.  These photographs prove they did just that!

My now son-in-law, Ryan, was with us that Easter.  I think it was his first time to spend a holiday with us in Jasper and the first time to be included in the traditional Odom grandkids swing photo.  My pup, Lucy was also with us that day too!  We had just gotten her and at this point she was only about 6 months old and looked like a fuzzy house slipper!  She was so fluffy!  It was fun to see her in all her fluff and I had honestly forgotten she went with us that year!  It was also her first time to meet the family, including Rhonda, my sister-in-law, and her dog, Bentley.  Lucy and Bentley would have a love-hate relationship for years to come.  Mainly, Bentley hated Lucy to chase him around the house but she did it anyway!

We celebrated two birthdays that day too.  My son, Charlie turned 19 and Rhonda’s grandson, Jonathan, turned 12, if I’m counting the candles on his cake correctly!  My mother is standing behind Charlie in a few of the photos and she looks so happy.  Her hair was finally getting thicker after having lost it due to chemotherapy the year before.  Easter 2008 marked one year since she had been diagnosed with breast cancer reminding me how fragile life can be.

It’s ten years later now and if this trip back through my family photos has taught me anything today, it’s that I need to take even more photos when the family is together.  For instance, I regret that I didn’t get a photo of my mother-in-law that Easter.  She’s in a couple of photos from a distance but I don’t have anything close up that day.  I also wish I had asked my husband to take a few photos of me with both my sisters-in-law that day.   Looking back on these photos, I see opportunities that I missed but I also see what I was able to capture too.  In the photo of Rhonda holding Lucy, my sister-in-law has her head thrown back and is laughing.  I can actually hear her laugh when I see this photo!  Ten years isn’t that long ago but in this short time, we’ve lost several family members from these photos…Johnnie, Rhonda, my nephew, Aaron, and just recently, Bentley.

These photographs remind me of our family story.  They also tell me that our family story will continue.  It will have highs and lows, good times and not so good times.  Through it all…we will come together each Easter for our own hope and renewal.  And we will remember every family member and keep their stories with us.

Happy Easter from my family to yours…

 

 

 

Girl Scout Cookies and Wine?

Table setting for Girl Scout cookies and wine pairing

It’s Girl Scout cookie time!  This is the time of year when all your New Year’s resolutions about losing weight take a slight break when that cute little Girl Scout in your neighborhood asks you to buy cookies!  Seriously, how can you say no to a young girl learning about marketing, money management, people skills and entrepreneurship by selling these cookies?  They are SO good and everyone has their one favorite…or two…or THREE!!!

Girl Scout cookie bites with a madeira wine

Two years ago a friend posted a Girl Scout cookie and wine pairing photo on my Facebook wall.  I was getting more and more into wine and food pairings and I had a good laugh at the photo.  Girl Scout cookies and wine?  I wasn’t so sure. But the thought was tucked away in my mind and this year I decided it would be fun to try it out.  First I did a little online research.  Sure enough, most of the information I found was based on the photo my friend had shared with suggestions to pair Samoas (chocolate and coconut cookies) with Rioja and Trefoils (butter cookies) with champagne.  Sounded simple enough.  Then one afternoon I was at a food and wine event at Perry’s Steakhouse and asked their corporate sommelier, Susi Zivanovich what she would suggest.  She said to go with dessert wines like port, madeira and something I had never tried before…sauternes.  Next, I  found an article in Food & Wine magazine pretty much debunking all the pairings I had originally come across.  They also agreed with Suzi about the dessert wines.  And I figured since it was Food & Wine magazine, they should know!

So, I set about getting a Girl Scout Cookie and dessert wine pairing pulled together with a few friends.  I headed to Trader Joes, World Market, Publix and Vintage Wines to gather all the suggested wines in the Food and Wine article.  These are the wines I ended up with:

  • Emma Reichart Dry Riesling – $4.99 @ Trader Joes
  • Moscato d’Asti Villa Alena – $8.99 @ Trader Joes
  • Schloss Biebrich Rose Sekt (Sparkling Wine) – $6.99 Trader Joes (Okay…I did add a sparkling wine because I was curious even though it wasn’t suggested. More on that in a bit.)
  • Chateau Pleytegeat Sauternes – $11.50 on sale (Regular price $15) @ World Market
  • Blandy’s Madeira – $20.99 @ Vintage Wine Shop
  • Taylor Tawny Port – $8.49 @ Publix

For several days, I mulled over how to set everything up.  I saw a few photos of pairings online where chalk boards were used and it looked nice enough but with six wines and seven cookies, I thought it might get a little crowded looking on the table.  Plus, I wanted to add the suggested cookie pairings next to each wine and needed a little more room to write.  I found a roll of butcher paper in my hall closet and it was just enough to cover my dining room table.  The wines were lined up from light to dark on the left and the cookies were lined up next to their main suggested pairing (as much as possible), on the right.  Then I grabbed a large sharpie and got to work labeling everything!  The pairings looked like this:

  • Riesling with Toffee-tastic (gluten-free buttery with sweet crunchy toffee bits) and Savannah Smiles (zesty lemon wedge dusted with powdered sugar)
  • Moscato with Trefoils (shortbread) and S’mores (graham sandwich with creamy chocolate and marshmallow filling)
  • Sparkling Rose with Savannah Smiles (powdered sugar lemon)
  • Sauternes with S’mores and Samoas (crisp cookie coated in caramel, sprinkled w/toasted coconut and striped with dark chocolate)
  • Madeira with Do-Si-Dos (crunchy oatmeal sandwich cookie with peanut butter filling) and Tagalongs (crispy cookies layered with peanut butter and covered with chocolate coating)
  • Tawny Port with S’mores, Tagalongs, Samoas and Do-Si-Dos

Usually at wine pairings you get a tally sheet to keep up with what you liked best and any other notes you want to make, but I decided to go a different route with this.  Having a paper and pen to add to a wine glass and plate of cookies seemed too much to handle.  As my guests tried a cookie and wine, I asked them to put a check mark beside the ones they thought paired the best.  By the end of the tasting we had a good idea which ones paired best.  For our tastes, this is what everyone liked the best:

  • Riesling – Savannah Smiles were the overwhelming favorite of all cookies and wines.  The Dry Riesling and lemon cookies pairing was so good everyone went back for more!
  • Moscato – There was a tie between Trefoils and S’mores and personally I liked both of these cookies with the Moscato.  I’m not a big Moscato fan so this surprised me!
  • Sparkling Rose – only one person really liked pairing this wine with the Savannah Smiles which proved the Food & Wine article was right about champagne.  On the other hand, everyone enjoyed drinking the champagne when the tasting was over.
  • Sauternes – Hands down the Samoas won with this suggested pairing.  Was it the coconut or the chocolate?  For me I think it was the coconut and the fact that this was a really sweet wine so I think the coconut balanced it out.
  • Madeira – I paired this with both types of peanut butter cookies and everyone preferred the chocolate covered Tagalongs with the Madeira.  So…this lead me to believe any of the chocolate cookies would work.  S’mores for me was a close second even though I didn’t officially pair this one with the Madeira.
  • Tawny Port – This is the wine that had the most suggested pairings, four total.  Again, the Tagalongs (with chocolate) were a hit and tied with the S’mores (also with chocolate).
  • EXTRA WINE PAIRING – I have to add that one of my guests brought a white blend wine, Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc & Viognier, to try with the peanut butter cookies. She had gone to Vintage Wine Shoppe and they suggested this pairing.  FYI – this was the place where I bought the Madeira wine.  We added it to the table and both cookies paired really well with this wine!

Last but not least…the thin mints…these are probably one of the most popular Girl Scout cookies but the thought of having wine with a thin mint didn’t seem like a good idea to me.  The mint flavor was sure to overtake anything that we tried.  In fact, I don’t think I saw anyone try the thin mints at my pairing.  I know, I didn’t try to pair them, and I believe the Food & Wine article suggestion was to put these cookies next to the coffee!  Now THAT’S the perfect pairing!

I’m thinking about making this an annual event at my house.  Several friends are already saying they’d love to be included and I love planning a good party!  Meanwhile, if you are interested in trying out any of these pairings, you need to go ahead and get your cookies during the month of March!  In the Birmingham area, you can reach out to Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama and click on the cookie link for further information.  Or you can click on the “Find Cookies” button and enter your zip code to find out where booth sales are taking place.  And if you are sticking with your losing weight resolution, remember that you can freeze the cookies until you are ready to give these pairings a try.

A personal note about Girl Scouts…I was a Girl Scout when I lived in Puerto Rico.  My mother was my Brownie leader and I went all the way up to one year as a Cadette until we moved to Chicago.  Both of my daughters were in Girl Scouts and while I helped out a lot with my older daughter’s troop, I was my younger daughter’s troop leader from 1st through 12th grade.  I served as Hoover Valley Service Area Manager for five years and also on the board of Cahaba Girl Scouts (now Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama).  Being a Girl Scout is something I’m very proud of and it taught me so many life lessons.  I remember selling cookies door-to-door in my neighborhood of Sagrado Corazon in Puerto Rico and helping my daughters do the same where we live in Hoover.  Girl Scout cookies are all the more sweet because of my long time affiliation with this wonderful organization.  They truly do build girls with courage, confidence and character.  Now…go buy some Girl Scout cookies!

 

 

Joseph and The Pita Hut

The Pita Hut, located in Chelsea Corners is the home of some fabulous Mediterranean food in Shelby County!

I got a text from my friend Lisa Pruitt last month saying we needed to try out a restaurant in Chelsea called The Pita Hut.  Well, I’m always up for a night out with Lisa and her husband Johnny so of course I said yes!  But I also wondered why she wanted to drive all the way to Chelsea from Hoover on a Friday night for dinner.  I was curious, to say the least!

Turns out, Lisa has a friend who is close friends with The Pita Hut owner, Joseph Matta , and she wanted us to go try the food!  Joseph has been in the restaurant business for some time now and has been at his Chelsea location since early 2014.  I wasn’t sure what to expect to be honest.  I mean, based on the restaurant name, I really thought we would be having pita sandwiches and soft drinks.  Boy was I ever wrong!

The Pita Hut is located in the Chelsea Corners strip mall  right off of Highway 280.  Coming from Hoover, it was a bit of a trip and when we arrived we weren’t sure where the restaurant was situated.  We quickly found it nestled in the corner of the strip mall.  When we walked in, there were several couples having dinner and it felt quite intimate.  There is a beautiful mural on the back wall of the restaurant so when the hostess asked us where we wanted to sit, I pointed to the tables right in front of the mural.  It was picture perfect!

Beautiful mural in The Pita Hut! This is where we sat that Friday night.

Soon we were ordering wine and carefully studying the menu.  We quickly discovered the options were endless!  While they do a sandwich type business during the day, the evening is reserved for a more white tablecloth offering.  We decided to order the sample appetizer platter while we were mulling over our dinner options.  The sampler included baked pita chips, fresh pita, hummus, baba gannouj, taziki, salsa, falafel, spinach fatayer, beef fatayer and olives and cheeses.  That was a feast in itself!!!  Plus, they brought out fresh homemade hummus and pita chips right before the platter arrived!  We decided we needed to pace ourselves!!!

The sampler platter was a meal in itself!

Next thing we knew, Joseph the owner was at our table to welcome us and see how things were going.  Lisa told him of their mutual friend and we asked him about his business.  As he spoke it was clear that Joseph considers himself a chef and an artist.  He relishes in creating foods that leave his customers coming back for more, not only because the food is delicious but also because of the beautiful presentation.  He mentioned his catering business and from the sound of it, the catering side of his business is quite strong!  So after our appetizer sampler and a little tabouli salad, Joseph asked us what we wanted our entrees to be.  I was really interested in the shrimp adobado plate and curious as to why a Mediterranean restaurant would have something with Mexican adobo sauce on the menu.  As it turns our, Joseph once lived in Texas and worked/managed a Mexican restaurant!

After much discussion and back and forth about what to order, Joseph said to us – “let me go back to the kitchen and prepare some especially food for you.”  He had listened to us talk about our preferences and I could almost see his artist/chef mind working.  We all excitedly agreed!  Well…what Joseph ended up bringing to our table was a feast!  We got the shrimp adobado along with the Special Chicken Rolls, which Eddie was wanting to try.  The shrimp was stuffed with mild peppers and wrapped in bacon and grilled, while the chicken rolls were stuffed with spinach and cheese with wine reduction sauce.  He also brought out a platter of Kibbi, Kefta and grape leaves.  This is the more traditional food and it was all fabulous!  The kefta is made with fresh ground sirloin and has onions, parsley and very unique spices.  The kibbi is also made from ground meat – generally beef or lamb and topped with taziki sauce.  You can never go wrong with taziki sauce!  Last but not least…grape leaves.  This mixture of rice, dill, mint and meat rolled in a grape leaf reminds me of a tiny tamale only in this case you “can” eat the grape leaf. (NOTE:  You definitely don’t want to eat a Mexican tamale corn husk!)

After we had a chance to fill our plates and sample everything, Joseph came out to check on us and we were collectively oohing and aahing.  The flavors were all so incredible and complementary.  I asked Joseph about one of the flavors in particular.  I was getting a hint of cinnamon in the kefta and he said “That’s right!  We cook with 7 different seasonings and that is one.”  It was an unexpected one!  I mean, I wouldn’t think of a cinnamon flavor in a meat dish but it definitely worked!

We stuffed ourselves so much that the idea of dessert should have been out of the question.  But we still wanted to sample so we got the baklava to go.  Joseph surprised us with containers of his homemade hummus and chips too.  Lisa and I also couldn’t leave without a photo of Joseph in front of his beautiful restaurant mural.  He was more than happy to oblige as we thanked him for a wonderful dining experience!

My friend, Lisa Pruitt and I with The Pita Hut owner, Joseph Matta in front of the lovely restaurant mural. We were stuffed at this point!

There are a few takeaways from this night that I still think about.  First, you know the old saying about not judging a book by its cover?  Well, there’s definitely a whole lot more to The Pita Hut than I expected!  The dining experience was top-notch and I want to really emphasize how wonderful it was!  I know it’s off the beaten path for me personally since I live in Hoover but I loved the fact that a friend who lives in the Chelsea area commented on a photo I posted and how much she loves the place!  Secondly, it’s great to see unique restaurants all over the Birmingham region popping up these days.  Granted, The Pita Hut has been here for several years but that just goes to show you can always discover something new in places you don’t necessarily frequent!  Which leads me to my third takeaway…spreading the good news by word of mouth, or in my case…through a blog post!  The Shelby County area has definitely seen a surge in population over the past ten years or so and so I suspect more and more places will be popping up.  But Joseph’s Pita Hut is well established and I highly recommend you give them a try!  As for me…I’m ready for a return visit and I already have a few new items I want to try…like the Mediterranean pita quesadillas!

 

 

Memories Matter…Never Forget – International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Eternal Flame at the Holocaust Museum’s Hall of Remembrance

Memories Matter.  Never Forget.  Those were the words that Holocaust Museum volunteer, Harold “Hal” Wittman spoke to me and asked me to repeat when I visited the Holocaust Museum in May 2014.

I was in Washington DC for a conference and visiting the National Holocaust Museum was high on my list.  I arrived right when the museum opened on my last full day in DC,  thinking I would only stay for a short while and then walk on to the Washington monument.   Four hours later, I left the museum feeling so saddened by what I had seen there but also determined to share my experience and the words that Hal repeated to me as I was preparing to see the permanent exhibit.

When I arrived that morning, there was a Holocaust Survivor scheduled to speak in the auditorium.  Volunteers were encouraging people to go and hear the survivor speak so I walked in and an elderly gentleman was seating people.  As I walked toward this man, he directed me to a seat and then told me to keep the seat next to me – on the aisle – free for him.  He needed quick access on the aisle so I did as he asked.  As the program started, he took his seat next to me.  We didn’t speak until the presentation was over and I began a conversation with him.  I really don’t remember what I said to him but he thanked me later for “taking the initiative to stop and talk.”  Hal and I continued talking for quite a while and we shared many stories and opinions during this short time.  I talked about Hispanic issues in Alabama and he talked about things to see at the museum that resonated with him.  We stood in the auditorium for so long that the moderator for the presentation with the Holocaust survivor joined us.  I don’t remember his name but he was a local newscaster and he knew Hal and easily joined into our conversation.  Both were very interested in what was happening in Alabama surrounding immigration issues which I wasn’t expecting.  After the moderator left and we were walking out of the auditorium together, Hal suddenly stopped, turned to me and said he wanted me to repeat something he was about to say.  That’s when he said to me “Memories Matter and Never Forget.”  I repeated these words back to him and he smiled at me.  It became my mantra that day.

It was getting close to time for me to go through the permanent exhibit but Hal wanted to show me around the main floor.  It was great having my own personal guide through the museum.  We walked through Daniel’s Story, an exhibition for children,  as well as the Wall of Remembrance filled with tiles made by children and dedicated in 1993 to remember the children who lost their lives in the holocaust.  We spoke for so long that I missed my tour time but Hal walked me through the long line of people and straight to the elevator so I could get through.  Before I got on the elevator, he gave me his card with his phone number and said, “I don’t want to be forward but I’ve so enjoyed speaking with you. After you go through the exhibits, I would like to hear your thoughts on what you see.”  I told him I would be happy to share my thoughts with him and took the card.  Then, before the doors closed he said to me again – “Memories matter – never forget!”  I repeated those words back to him…

With those words freshly planted in my mind, I went through the exhibit.  I will tell you that it isn’t an easy museum to go through.  I had moments where I had to just stop and sit for a while because it was so overwhelming.  There were several times where what I saw just took my breath away. One of those times was when I walked through the “Shoe Room.”  As you walk through, you don’t see much at first but you are hit by a smell…a smell of mustiness.  Then as you look closer, your eyes are overwhelmed by a sea of shoes – thousands and thousands of shoes on either side of you.  As I looked closer, I was moved to tears.  There were shoes for all walks of life – men’s shoes, women’s high heels, slippers, children’s shoes…and there were baby shoes.  When I saw the baby shoes it made me think of a young mother carrying her child, getting on a train and not knowing what was to come of their lives.  I was looking at the soles of these shoes and sensing the souls of the people who once wore them.  Then I read the quote on the wall…

“We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.  We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers from Prague, Paris and Amsterdam, and because we are only made of fabric and leather and not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.” – Moshe Szulsztein

I ended my visit at the Hall of Remembrance.  An Eternal Flame burns on a black marble block which contains dirt from 38 of the concentrations camps in Europe.  Also included is dirt from a cemetery in Europe where American soldiers are buried to honor the American liberators of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps.  The quote on the wall is from Deuteronomy – “only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life.  And you shall make them known to your children, and to your children’s children.”

This is where the words “memory matters” really made sense to me.  These words from Deuteronomy are about the responsibility of memory.  My visit had come full circle thanks to Hal and the words he asked me to repeat.

Later that evening, I called Hal and shared my thoughts on the Holocaust Museum.  I told him I wished I could have spent even more time there because there was so much more I wanted to read and learn.  He was pleased with what I shared and repeated those very important words again as we finished our conversation.  After we hung up, I wondered if Hal had family impacted by this time in history.  I’ll never know but as a volunteer for the museum, he was so invested in sharing the story of the Holocaust and making sure that people who visit understand what happened and share their experiences in their corners of the world.  I’m forever grateful that I met Hal that day…and I’ll always remember those words he shared…Memories Matter / Never Forget.

 

It’s National Concha Day!

Conchas from Mi Pueblo Supermarket!

…well, almost…

I was scrolling through Instagram last week when I spotted a post from Raggedy Tiff about a gathering on December 8th for National Concha Day.  This was right after I found out I was hosting my annual cookie exchange party ON National Cookie Day so I was interested in finding out more about National Concha Day!  (Oh…and I know there’s a list of these national food days somewhere too and I plan to find it soon!)

What I found out in my research was that Jessica Resendiz of Raggedy Tiff, Alicia Becerra of Alicia’s Delicias and Karina Jimenez of Viva Los Cupcakes – all in California – had created a Change.org petition back in July to establish a National Concha Day on December 8th!  After gathering 5,000 signatures, the petition would then be sent to Governor Jerry Brown and 8 senators to request this special date become reality.

But wait a minute…maybe I should explain what a concha is and why this is important before going any further!  Also called pan dulce, a concha is Mexican sweet bread.  It is recognizable by its large shell-like shape.  In fact, concha means “shell,” and the top of the bread has a sugar shell pattern on it.  This bread has a “light” sweetness to it…much different than a donut or other pastry.  Buying a bag full of these conchas from Mi Pueblo Supermarket’s extensive bakery in Homewood is always a treat because they look so beautiful in the bag!  I generally select every color they have too.  Grab a cafecito and you have a delish breakfast or late brunch on a Saturday or Sunday, although traditionally a concha is eaten with a cup of hot chocolate!

Of course, having a National Concha Day would not be just about the bread…it’s more about a recognition of Mexican culture and traditions.  I’ve seen artists online who use the concha as an art form, creating earrings, necklaces and bracelets with this iconic bread on them.  I’ve also seen my share of t-shirts with funny slogans on them like “Let your conchas be your guide” and “don’t be self conchas!”  I may need to order one of those!  The concha is just such a mainstay in the Mexican culture and was influenced by the French, even the French occupation ended with the Battle of Puebla, better known as Cinco de Mayo.

As the petition states…”The creation of a National Concha Day would be a fun and exciting way to honor the Mexican pastry and its culture. Such a day would not only bring smiles to people’s faces, but also create cultural awareness of our customs and traditions.”  Plus…they are delicious!!!

I signed the petition today and they are so close to getting those 5,000 signatures!  If you’ve enjoyed a concha and love them and feel so inclined, hop on over to change.org (click here) and add your name to the petition.  Maybe this time next year it will be official and we’ll be saying a la Oprah…”you get a concha, you get a concha…everybody gets a concha!”  Meanwhile, tomorrow I’ll be having coffee and a concha and celebrating!

The pretty pink concha set against my Mexican Christmas tree this evening!