Friday, November 18, 2011

Celebrations of Thanksgiving: Cuban Seasonings

Ana Menéndez (b. 1970)
From American Food Writing: An Anthology With Classic Recipes

At the 2009 National Book Festival, Ana Menéndez opened her remarks by admitting that she had once decided not to write any more fiction about Cuban exiles. Yet, in spite of herself, the book she had most recently begun working on was about Cubans. As she noted in a recent interview with The Rumpus,“trying to escape Cuba, [she found] herself curating yet another book in debt to its traditions.”

The daughter of immigrants who fled Cuba in 1964 (fully expecting to return), Menéndez was born in Los Angeles and raised in Florida. For the last two decades she has worked as a journalist, including a tenure as a columnist for The Miami Herald. Both she and her husband, also a reporter, are globetrotters; she recently counted up the number of locations where she had resided during since the early 1990s and realized the total came to sixteen different “homes” on four continents. A little over a decade ago she began to write and publish fiction. Her debut story collection, In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd, was a 2001 New York Times Notable book of the year, and the title story won a Pushcart Prize. She has also published two novels, Loving Che (2004) and The Last War (2009); the latter was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of the top 100 books of the year. In August she published her latest book, Adios, Happy Homeland!—the collection of stories she had once sworn she wouldn’t write.

Like much of her fiction, “Celebrations of Thanksgiving” is about the experience of exile; it briefly chronicles her family’s course of assimilation through the medium of food, as they navigate between the boundaries of their Cuban heritage and American traditions. At the end of the narrative Menéndez has included her recipe for mojo, which readers may want to try for themselves, to add a Cuban flavor to this year’s holiday bird.

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We called it “Tansgibin” and to celebrate, we filled our plates with food that was strenuously—almost comically—Cuban: black beans and rice, fried plantains, yucca. Back then we didn’t know enough to know we were being ethnic, much less trendy. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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