A nostalgic debut that’s half memoir of a childhood in 1950s Cuba, and half cookbook with traditional recipes.
Vadell simply and honestly tells of her early upbringing in Cuba, before her family left and eventually settled in the United States. Born in Havana in 1950, the author tells stories of birthday parties with piñatas, daily swimming at the beach at Santa Maria del Mar and gathering around the table with her extended family for lunch and dinner. “Dinner time was not only a time for nourishment but it was also the arena in which many discussions took place,” she writes. Politics was a common, often heated, topic; Grandmother was “considered a socialist,” while Grandfather and Mother were “more conservative.” Most memorable, though, were the aromas, textures and flavors of the authentic Cuban food. After old Cuba began to unravel in 1960 under the new government of Fidel Castro, the family sought refuge in Spain, Puerto Rico and finally Miami and Los Angeles. Although the memoir’s prose is sometimes repetitive, the author delivers a candid, engaging first-person account of a disrupted life and the making of a new one. The book’s second half details 40 classic Cuban recipes for soups, seafood, beef, poultry, egg dishes and desserts, including sopa de ajo, tortilla de platanos maduros, carne mechada and arroz con pollo, among others. The recipes’ ingredients are basic and readily available, and Vadell’s instructions are clear. She includes family stories with many of the dishes, as well as a few color images, including enticing photos of a flan ring and a bowl of sweetened corn meal.
An author living her life with her “heart in two places” gives readers a taste of the culinary pleasures she remembers.