Feliz Navidad! Or… A Very Cuban Christmas
I love Christmas for the same reasons I love being Cuban: the food.
Every year, we cook a whole pig in an outdoor oven (which used to be a homemade fire pit back in the day), and we have plenty of black beans and rice to go with it.
My grandfather, who passed away three years ago, had his birthday on December 23rd, so it was tradition to gather at his and my grandmother’s house to celebrate his birthday and ready the pig for the next day– a tradition we keep to this day.
We marinate the pig in homemade mojo (MO-ho) sauce, which is a marinade made with bitter oranges, garlic, and spices. I won’t show you what the pig looks like before it’s prepared and cooked, because you may lose your appetite (don’t worry, it’s already dead and the insides are gone before we get it… our part isn’t very messy).
My brother Alex with some of the mojo.
They pour the mojo into the pig, as well as inject it into the thicker parts of the meat, so that everything is tender and evenly seasoned. Then they use several heads of garlic, spreading some on the meat and putting some into the skin of the pig.
My Tio Michael with the hatchet, which he uses to split the ribs to keep the pig flattened and open for cooking.
The next day we got together at my Tia Joyce’s and started with a few appetizers while the pig was already browning up outside (Think a turkey takes a while to cook? Try a pig).
Another thing about Latin Christmases is that there is a TON of food, and it doesn’t always have a theme. So if you have a weak stomach, you’d better take your Pepcid before (luckily, my stomach is made of steel ). But it’s always delicious.
My cousin Susan brought stuffed mushrooms.
Tia Allison brought some 7-layer dip– which was way too addicting.
My Abuela Norma made sausage, peppers and onions.
And my Tio Michael made bacon-wrapped meatballs stuffed with spicy cheese. I’m working on a lighter version of them, because they were to-die-for.
Meanwhile, the pig was cooking outside in the Caja China. Like I said before, they used to dig a fire pit, but it was a lot of work, and the pig cooked much slower. With the Caja China, they can keep the fire contained in the box, the cooking time is reduced big time, and cleanup is much easier (when you don’t have to dismantle a fire pit).
But between that and the outdoor fireplace, I smelled like a campfire for the rest of the night. They were lifesavers though. Even in Florida, Christmas can get pretty chilly.
My Abuela Norma bought Christmas aprons for the boys cooking the pig, and my uncle wasn’t the least bit pleased.
But Alex and my cousin Taylor didn’t mind. They kind of enjoyed them.
A few of us hanging out near the pig. Please observe my brother’s attempt at a smile. He wasn’t even drinking– that’s soda in his cup.
When the pig’s done, they take off the coal and shovel up the soot that gathers below. Notice the soot in the air– I tried not to breath too deeply while taking this.
Next comes the tasting. It’s tradition to taste a few pieces of pork before it’s taken out, chopped up, and shredded inside.
Cuban bread: something I desperately miss in L.A.
My plate: some pork with extra mojo on top, a slice of Cuban bread, black beans and rice, salad, and a chicken salad tart.
… and lotsa water!
Then came present time, where we open the presents from family members who aren’t around on Christmas Day.
Close-up of my sister Mia. Guess who dressed her and did her hair (minus the bow).
After a very long night (I think we left around 11), we came home and left out a note, cookies, milk, a Jolly Rancher (????), and oats (reindeer food), since Mia still believes in Santa. Makes things a lot more fun!
The thing wrapped in plastic wrap is a gingerbread Christmas tree Mia and I made a couple of days before.
And then we were off to bed! Santa doesn’t bring presents to kids that are awake, after all.