"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Three King's Day

We were going to try for the first ride of the year yesterday but it did not work out because it was 34 degrees with a windchill of 21 and 25 mph winds. Seriously what is UP with all of this wind this winter???

A far-away storm rolling in on the horizon.
It was Three King's Eve and Charles and I both worked today so we decided to do one special thing yesterday: we had to go up to Frederick to pick up horse feed so we decided to go have breakfast at the Cuban place on Patrick Street, Sabor de Cuba.

One of the few things I miss about South Florida is the food. You could go anywhere and grab Cuban food, which is the closest thing to Puerto Rican food. Puerto Ricans are more creative with plantains than Cubans, and Dominicans have even more plantain dishes than our people, but the seasonings, the way meats, chicken, rice and beans are cooked are all very similar: our food is very savory, often tilting on the salty side. (VERY different from traditional Mexican, which is much spicier. Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican food is not spicy.) While in South FL we missed some of the more Puerto Rican fare like mofongo al pilon and pasteles, but we had enough of all of the other foods, like ropa vieja, that we didn't really have a chance to miss the foods that we couldn't eat.

This is mofongo al pilon. The "bowl" is the mofongo, and it is made from smushed plantain. The center is hollow and is filled with anything you can think of: pork, ground beef, shredded beef, shrimp, crab meat, chicken.

Pasteles are kind of like tamales in appearance but quite different in flavor. In fact, once you've had pasteles, you'll never want tamales again! Pasteles are made out of yucca or plantain, stuffed with crab, stewed pork, chicken or ground beef with red peppers (not spicy) and olives, and wrapped in banana leaves. They are not easy to make, but when you live on the island you can usually find someone who knows someone that will make spectacular pasteles. They are seasonal: a typical Christmas dish. My mom usually sends us a couple of dozen around the holidays which last us a couple of months! They are prepared by the cook and frozen, so they have to be shipped Next Day Air or 2-Day Air. To make them at home after they arrive, I throw the frozen pasteles in a pot with boiling water and a pinch of salt for 30 minutes and voila: island food in Maryland! :)
Ropa vieja literally means "old clothes"! It is basically a sort of slow-cooked stew made with shredded flank steak, olives, peppers, and onions in a tomato-based broth. It is amazing!
And then you had places like Pollo Tropical, which was a fast food chain that served only Cuban food! I really miss Pollo Tropical.

Tropichops! This was my favorite menu item. I could get 2 meals out of this. For $3.

Are you guys drooling yet? ;)

So the catch with this Cuban restaurant? It is closed on Mondays. :( I snarled in frustration, figuring there went our plan because authentic Cuban restaurants that don't charge an arm and a leg are pretty much nonexistent in our area. (There is a Puerto Rican restaurant in DC named Mio, but they charge $25 for something I could get for $5 anywhere on the island! I know we'll check it out one day because Puerto Rican food, but still...that's like you going to, I don't know, Switzerland and getting charged $20 for frou-frou French fries.)

As luck would have it, there actually IS another place in Frederick: That Cuban Place. And it was open on Mondays. And it opened for breakfast.

So off we went yesterday morning to check it out.

It's a little hole-in-the-wall place away from the busier downtown Frederick streets that we probably would have never noticed if we hadn't been looking for it.

The photo I took on a frigid winter day.
The restaurant in summer. Photo from here
We were the first customers in there. The restaurant owner was there and we must look Hispanic enough because he greeted us in Spanish, with a definite Miami Cuban accent. We sat down at a booth and started looking over the menu, which we had already checked out online. I originally was set on breakfast food and was trying to make up my mind on what to choose, when the restaurant owner said that it would be about a 30 minute wait for rice and beans, but he could make us cubano sandwiches right away. Charles and I decided to go for the cubano sandwiches. We were offered coffee, which we both accepted. It was Cuban-style coffee made with steamed milk and the sugar already added and it was absolutely amazeballs.

Charles and I were grinning like little kids at this point and the food hadn't even arrived yet!
The sandwiches came out...they were served on fresh-baked bread, filled with slow-roasted pork, ham and melted Swiss cheese.

I did my Bachelor's at the University of Puerto Rico's Rio Piedras campus (here is the Wikipedia link in case anyone is interested since the UPR's website is in Spanish). It is one of the oldest and largest universities on the island, founded in 1900. It is a beautiful campus with a ton of history. But I'm digressing: the point of this story is that there was a little cafeteria across the street from the southern entrance of the university. A group of friends and I took to having lunch there a couple of times a week during my second semester, and they made one of the best cubano sandwiches I had ever had up until then.

So I bit into this sandwich yesterday and I was transported. Charles and I grinned across the table at one another and felt more at home than we had in a long time on this freezing cold day in January.

 The restaurant owner, Alfredo, heard us talking (Charles and I talk to one another in Spanish because it's our first language; I'm mentioning it because for whatever reason some people are surprised that we speak in Spanish at home) and he asked us what part of Puerto Rico were we from. We laughed and told him. As it turns out, Alfredo has several Puerto Rican friends and he recognized the accent. The restaurant owner is Cuban raised in Miami. He made us each a second mug of coffee, and switched the Cuban salsa music to Puerto Rican merengue. We took our time eating and finally Charles asked for the check. Alfredo said, "You can't go yet! I'm saving a pastel de queso y guayaba for you!"

Charles and I gasped. "Okay, bring it!"

So this type of pastel is a dessert item, breakfast or snack. It is made out of flaky puff pastry and filled with guava (guayaba), guava and cream cheese (queso y guayaba), cheddar cheese, or ground beef. Queso y guayaba is my favorite but is one of the less popular flavors on the island.

The restaurant owner brought the pastry out. It was freshly baked right out of the oven and incredible. I almost died. I hadn't had anything that amazing in...forever.

You can't taste a photo, and even if you could, this photo doesn't do it justice!
We found a little piece of the island in that little restaurant with the warm orange walls, and we have every intention of going back. The cold was somehow less cold when we stepped back outside to go to our car.

Thank you, That Cuban Place, for making us feel at home.

We stopped by the feed store and headed towards the barn.

Even out in Frederick a good 40 miles from the barn, the wind was blowing at a constant 17 mph. At the barn it was something fierce. We pulled Lily and Gracie from the field and tied them to the fence so they could snack on hay while we set up their grain for the week.

Each of the mares spooked 3 or 4 times over the course of the next 30 minutes, bad enough to warrant me going outside to untie them and/or calm them down each time. Lily barely ate, she was so worked up. The barn trash can was blown over and the lid went flying, getting stuck on the fence on Gracie's other side. Gracie almost had a heart attack and she's the one who's rarely spooky. I had offered Lily her grain in an attempt to get her to eat something but she managed to spill all of her grain on the grass. I knelt down to scoop it up and Lily started to shoot backwards away from me...I had done nothing threatening at all. I untied the quick release knot before she could hit the end of the rope and told Charles, "We're not riding today." Riding in the front field meant riding in the full force of the arctic winds, riding in the back field meant riding right next to the swaying trees of the forest, and the mares had already spooked a couple of times just looking in the direction of the woods so riding on the trails was out of the question too. It wasn't worth the risk to both of us when both of the horses were so nervous. So I decided to longe them both, and for this I employed Charles's new skills: he got to longe Gracie all by himself. In her regular flat halter, sans Bungee Straightjacket. It's the best I've seen her move on the longe:

I continue to be surprised by his natural feel for horses. 

I longed Lily in the back field for about 20 minutes while keeping an eye on Charles and Gracie. I let him play around with Lily on the longe without giving him the clues to managing her from the ground and he actually got the hang of working with her after about 5 minutes. He was surprised by how different they are. Literally opposite. Lily was really good for him, looking over at me questioningly then cocking an ear at Charles and trying her best to do what he wanted. If I corrected something from where I was standing watching, she'd obey too. Good mare, listening to two people giving her orders!

Twinkle toes. She was only wearing the surcingle and breeching; nothing attached to the bridle.
Afterwards they got blanketed and set up for the night with haynets in their run-in:

And we went home.

I woke up this morning before dawn to snow coming down, the first real snow of the winter. On Three King's Day. I walked outside grumbling about having to wake up 10 minutes early to remove the snow from the car and still be on time to work...and then I saw the light from one of the street lights hit it, turning it into a fine sparkly glitter falling from the sky, making the snow already on the ground glitter too. It was like inches of the finest glitter covering the ground. It was so beautiful, and I felt that surge of giddiness that I get when I first see fresh snow.

Glitter! The snow looked like this.

And I grinned like a little kid as I swept 2" of powdery snow off of my car, thinking, "The Three Kings brought me snow!"

It set the tone for the rest of the day. We were short-staffed in the morning at work because everyone was having a hard time just getting there with the insane traffic on the roads (because people in MD/VA/DC think it's the damned apocalypse if there's a couple of inches of snow on the ground and are absolutely clueless about driving in it...it took some people two hours to drive what usually are 30 minute drives on I-270) so I went down to the Intermediate Care Ward to help them get caught up with treatments. I assigned myself the cats (we have a separate ward for them so they don't have to listen to barking dogs all day while they're hospitalized/boarding) and started doing their treatments. One of the kitties was being monitored closely for not urinating appropriately (volume out wasn't matching the volume he was getting in fluids), but he urinated after I figured out his litter box preference. I told Dr. J, who was in charge of him, and there was a sort of small celebration. It always feels good when you can make a difference for a patient, however small that difference might seem.

Snow days are usually fairly quiet at work: only people with real emergencies will brave the snow to bring their pets to us. This works out for us because usually some employees won't be able to make it in. This means that those of us that do show up to work end up pitching together to help one another. It's an awesome thing, and something that I've come to look forward to throughout the year. We had a 200 lb Saint Bernard come in with seizures that required four technicians to get out of the client's SUV. For the occasion we had one ER tech (me), one neurology tech, one surgery tech, and one receptionist. Plus the dog's owner, a burly middle-aged man.

There were no deaths and no disasters today, and I had a couple of opportunities to just go look out a window at the whiteness.

And imagine myself riding in it. Soon!

There are several new followers, so if you missed last year's Three King's post, it is here. I explain what the date means to us PR expats and specifically me.

It doesn't sound like it was much, but it was. Both yesterday and today there was that edge of magic that always seems to accompany these dates. It seems like being one of a handful of people in the area who knows about the date and celebrates it just makes it all that more special. :)

I hope the magic of the Three Kings was with you today too!


  1. A) I love mofongo
    B) you can't get it here either
    C) why are so many Cuban places $$$$
    D) I didn't realize Spanish was your first language!

    1. A) Yaaay!!! I still think it's awesome that you visited my island! :)
      B) Boooo...though I'm going to guess the Mexican you can get there is amazing! Charles and I LOVE authentic Mexican because it is so *different* from our typical food!
      C) I have no idea. If you go to WEF next year, e-mail me: I'll tell you all of the affordable places you can go to!
      D) It is! I learned to speak Spanish first, but I don't remember a time when I didn't understand English; I just didn't speak it until I was 6. My mom put me in pre-kinder instead of kindergarten at age 6 because the pre-k instructor at the Army base was bilingual: that's when I finally started speaking English. :)

  2. This weekend I saw the groups of star singers go by with their parents - kids dressed up as kings. I was worried they'd come to my door and sing and expect donations or candy, but by now they know we're not catholic. Also, I removed their mark from our doorway when we bought the house. I'd say about half the homes in our town have their mark. As they went by, Mara was pretty surprised. One of the girl kings stood in our driveway staring at Mara a long time.

    If I liked American food I'd be pretty bummed about the epic fails all the American restaurants are in our area. The things they think we eat, oh my. What I miss most of all: seafood.

    How wonderful that you have that Cuban place!

    1. I thought of you when we went to the Cuban place, because I know how you feel when it comes to being away from your homeland.

      They celebrate Three Kings in Germany so differently from us in PR. The star singers sound lovely, but we don't have them. We would just set out grass in shoe boxes for the Kings' camels/horses next to our beds or under the Christmas tree. The next morning, presents would have taken the place of the grass-filled shoe boxes. It was so much more magical than Christmas.

  3. I have never had Cuban/Puerto Rican food...but man you had us all drooling! How cool that you found such a nice little restaurant (with clearly a great owner!)

    1. WHEN YOU COME VISIT I will cook for you. :D Or if you visit Liz on a weekend we're hanging out with her! Yes??

  4. ::scowls at you from WV:: Posting that food was sheer torture. After reading the first two descriptions I just scrolled fast until it was gone in order to save myself the torture, you evil woman. I did read most of it though ;-) and am drooling and cranky as a result. EVIL EVIL WOMAN. You will take me here and I will eat all the things and then I will sleep blissfully with Zombie cradled in my arms.

    Moving on...you didn't have wind last winter? HA. LUCKY. It was HEINOUS here. It's heinous again. It also doesn't help that I live in a wind tunnel aka the field where my apt. is. *sigh* I should put up snow drift fences out there. I'd have SO MUCH. I ought to post the photos of the road yesterday when I came home. They're so horrible...but it was AFTER the plow. When I went to work yesterday morning I beat the plows. -_- Reasons I drive a 4WD SUV. Always an adventure!

    Thought about you yesterday and was going to text you and wish you happy 3 Kings Day but then forgot about it...bad Liz...so here is my belated text: HAPPY THREE KINGS DAYYYYYYYY.

    ...now feed me the nummy foodz. MOAR AND MOAR.

    1. Blogger needs to get with the times and allow images to be posted on comments, because I would post a pic of a blissed-out Zombie being loved on. ;) He loves it as much as he did when he was a kitten!

      We had wind last year but it was nowhere near as bad or as frequent as it has been this year. I never once thought, "I shouldn't ride in the woods today because a tree might fall on me." It's a frequent thought this year. WTF. We are SO GLAD we have the 4WD Beast this winter! :D

      Yay HAPPY THREE KINGS DAY TO YOU TOO! (very belated...)

      Come visit in March and I will feed you all the nummy foodz! :D

  5. May you have a wonderful year filled with peace, love and all of the good things!

    I think I could like both Cuban and Puerto Rican food, since I am less about the spice and more about the yummy goodness. And could you send me the recipe for "old clothes", since I would love to try making it. :)

    1. You too Karen!! *hugs*

      I'm seriously excited about you and the fam coming to visit because I want to cook for you and see what you think. :)

      For readers that might be interested: I texted Karen some recipes, but this one has ingredients that you can find at any grocery store: http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Cuban-Style-Ropa-Vieja

  6. aaaaand now i'm hungry lol. and cold... as a fellow marylander, this weather really has me down too :(

    1. One of the reasons I started following your blog is because you're from my state! :D That and I can relate to your views on eventing...I love the sport but I'm way, way too chicken to try it. So I live vicariously through bloggers like you. :)

      So yes, this weather has been insanely cold this week! When we moved up here, Wikipedia said that typical winters are in the 40s during the day, 20s at night...uummm lies. All lies!

  7. Ahhhh, now I'm hungry! And glad that I'm not the only one not riding - I was starting to think I was a wuss:) Maybe this weekend...

    1. I'm totally taking advantage of the weather now that there is snow on the ground! Snow = YESSS to riding. Ice = big fat no. Do it! :) Have fun!