Strange Magic at Skywalker Ranch #StrangeMagicEvent

There are places in this world that are legendary to us über-nerds. Skywalker Ranch, located 40 minutes north of San Francisco is one of those places.

Earlier this week I was privileged to visit the fabled home of Lucasfilm's amazing postproduction facility, Skywalker Sound and tour the ranch itself.


I was invited along with 24 other bloggers to come up to Skywalker Ranch and preview the latest film from the mind of George Lucas, Strange Magic.


So, let's just review so far: 

I went to George Lucas' famed Skywalker Ranch to preview the latest film from the mind of George Lucas. (I know. Shut up.)

Let's continue now, won't we?

I have made notes and composed this post at least a dozen times because I want to share every little detail with you, but seriously, there's just too much to tell. 

Skywalker Ranch is a gorgeous slice of heaven. It's George Lucas' vision of perfection. Tranquil, without any extraneous signs of techi-ness (is that a word?) lies the most celebrated (arguably) audio post-production facility in the world.

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The feeling I got when we arrived at the property was that I had stepped right onto the set a beautiful movie. 

The Tech Building

Our first stop was the Tech Building, which looks nothing like you would imagine a Tech Building to look like, because it fit right into the scenery and looked more like a fabulous Tuscan vineyard.

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This is the home of Skywalker Sound. This Tuscan-villa-looking place houses a world-class scoring stage, six mix studios, ADR and Foley stages, 34 editing suites, and a 300-seat screening room. All in this breathtakingly pristine setting. 

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If you didn't know any of this, you would just be in awe of the majesty of the place and wondering which way to the tasting room.

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But right when we walked in, I felt comfortable, and welcomed. Not intimidated at all. (Unless, of course, I stopped and remembered that we were truly in the very heart of all that is good and holy about the center of the Lucasfilm Universe, at which point I freaked out just a litte, but that's not important right now.)

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The property includes the iconic main house, just down there, past the vineyard at the end of the road.

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And the beautiful Lake Ewok. (I swear that's the name of it. Isn't that just delicious?) We were told that it's stocked with fish and even suitable for swimming in the summer time.

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We entered the Tech Building. (did I mention it looked more like a villa in Tuscany than anything to do with tech?)

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And we were escorted straight into the main dining area. (This made me very happy, but that's not important right now, either.)

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This open, airy, bright, naturally lit space was much more "ranch-like" than what the exterior portrayed. It was decorated simply with George Lucas' extensive collection of classic movie posters from as far back as the 20's and 30's.

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The Stag Theater, a 300 seat beauty with the Most Perfect Sound and Acoustics of Any Movie Theater on the Planet (OF COURSE), was where we were treated to the screening of the film, Strange Magic. 

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The screen is guarded on either side by the statues that were seen in Star Wars Episode II in Emperor Palpatine's office. (Excuse me, please. My nerdiness is showing.)

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Strange Magic opens everywhere on Friday, January 23rd. I promise to review the film next week, but until then, here's a preview.

Just before the film began, George Lucas himself snuck into the theater to watch the movie with us. (I know. Don't hate.)

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Kudos to Tee of That's IT Mommy for this amazing Ninja Selfie

So, again, let's just recap where we are right now. We were screening the new animated film, Strange Magic from the mind of George Lucas with George Lucas. 

I can barely stand it myself.

After the screening of the film, we were treated to a performance by Elijah Kelley (Hairspray, Red Tails, The Butler), the voice of Sunny the Elf in the film.

We interviewed director Gary Rydstrom, Elijah Kelley, and George Lucas himself. I'll post those interviews next week, I promise. 

Meanwhile, back at The Ranch... (<--see what I did there?)

Lunch happened. And excuse me while I get off track here for just a moment, but wow! that was the best strawberry shortcake I've ever tasted. *starts researching strawberry shortcake recipes* 

Please notice Humphrey Bogart, the obvious predecessor to Indiana Jones watching over our strawberry shortcakes. 



The Main House

The 50,000 square foot main house was all comfort and charm. With miles of wrap-around porch around this Victorian home with all redwood construction, it is the crown jewel of this property.

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"Wait. What? We get to go inside?" Color me crazy-happy.


photo credit:


This is the part where I could not take any photos, so you'll just have to bear with me

The furnishings were very comfortable and had an earthy down-home feeling. Nothing pretentious at all. It could have been anyone's home, except for the curio cabinets found in the main entry. Imagine my delight that the first thing we encountered was a cabinet housing George's collectibles, mementos and gifts.

Among those was a weathered brown hat and bullwhip. (Use your imagination, please). And the Holy Grail. The HOLY GRAIL, people. Luke and Obi-wan's original light sabers and small scale models of the all terrain armored transports from Star Wars. I was in Star Wars über-nerd heaven. 

And then...

The Library

Lucasfilm Research LIbrary

@Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All Rights Reserved

The Lucasfilm Research Library.

You know that moment in Beauty and the Beast when Belle breathlessly sees the library for the first time? Yeah, that was pretty much all of us.

A stained glass dome at the top covers the 2-story fabulousness that is this library. Seriously, it has to be one of the 7 Wonders of the Movie-making World. The centerpiece of this glorious place is the grand spiral staircase, made entirely of wood, which was constructed right there at the ranch. The library houses the entire Lucasfilm collection of books, magazines, and periodicals.  I could have easily spent days right there. 

The Magical Light

I was impressed with the beautiful natural lighting everywhere in the main house. Lots of skylights and windows welcoming nature to literally come inside.

It felt warm and a little ethereal. There was a feeling of magic almost everywhere. And yet, maybe it was just the peaceful vistas from every window.

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The General Store

We wrapped up our visit with a stop at the Skywalker Ranch General Store.

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As you can imagine, I came home armed with logo gear for the entire family. Because SKYWALKER RANCH, of course. 

Lake Ewok

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As we finished up our tour, we stopped and looked back at the house from the aptly named Lake Ewok. This is the picture I wanted to keep in my mind of the beauty and perfection that is Skywalker Ranch. 

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What a blast to get to share the adventure with all these lovely bloggers. Thanks to Disney and Touchstone Pictures I can cross another item off my Bucket List.

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photo credit:

The spell cast by Skywalker Ranch is indeed some Strange Magic. 

Stay tuned! I'll be writing much more about this trip next week. Strange Magic opens in theaters on Friday, January 23rd, 2015.

The LEGO Movie Experience at Legoland. Yes, we did.

My son, Jonathan is 18 years old. He's not your typical high school senior in that he's been homeschooled since the first grade. He's got a ton of friends and pretty much does your typical teen guy stuff.

It was my delight to take Jon with me when I was invited to Legoland® for the day to preview The LEGO® Movie Experience. I was doing the Media Thing. How accidentally cool is this?

Marta darby-legoland-media

What this meant was that Jon and I got to spend a day together at Legoland®. This is something we haven't done since he was pretty young. But, as you know, we are all Unabashed Lovers of All Things Lego. See here, here, here, and here.

Marta darby legoland

The new Legoland attraction, the LEGO Movie Experience was a visit to the set of Finn's Basement. The place where the live action portion of The LEGO Movie was filmed.

Finn's basement-legoland

Picture a city and attending sets built with over 3 million LEGO bricks. I know. Mind blown.


If you look hard enough, you can actually find Emmet and his friends in vignettes from the movie. We may or may not have spent hours doing exactly this.

Emmet and friends Legoland

Also, it became a personal scavenger hunt to find Batman. Of course, there was only one Batman, because, well, there's really only one Batman. (Duh.)

Lego movie event Batman

Everywhere we turned there were more scenes from the movie. If you're a BrickLover (and we totally are), you would seriously appreciate.

WyldSide and Emmet

We so loved the movie and we so love the bricks and now here's yet another reason to love them both.

TLME Legoland

Both my husband and son have always loved building with LEGO bricks. I'm pretty sure Legoland was designed for the 12-and-under crowd and I absolutely remember the appeal for that age group, but there's something so iconic and delightful about LEGOS.

Maybe it's just nostalgia, or maybe it's something more. Could it be that the Love of All Things LEGO is transcendent?

Or maybe we're just the type of über-geeks who are imaginative enough to picture ourselves in the beautiful world of bricks where Everything is Awesome.

Let's play find the Cuban Lego Mama...

Marta darby-legoland

I wrote some more about this fabulous day over at The OC Latina Moms Blog.

We're. On. Vacation.

Every year we look forward to our week down in the beach town of Del Mar, California. It's about an hour south of where we live.

What a difference that hour south makes.

We've been coming here to this same beach house in Del Mar for the past 4 years and it always manages to feel both fresh and familiar. Unpacking and cooking is easy. I know my way around this kitchen just like I know my own.

Part of vacationing for me is attempting to un-plug from social media. This is HARD. (I said, attempting, okay? I know my limits.)  So, I do it in baby-steps. I start by limiting my reading-what-everyone-else-is-doing-right-this-minute on Facebook.

And I only post photos on Instagram. Also, because I work on Project Life all year, sharing on Instagram helps me remember and organize where we were and what we were up to on certain days, but that's not important right now.

Vacation. (On Instagram.)

The first thing we do when we get here is... drop everything. ("You can unpack later!") We head down to the beach immediately (It's exactly 238 steps from our front door) to get sand in our toes and feel the breeze in our hair.

Marta & eric

Some days we make a big, fat, bacon-and-eggs-with-all-the-trimmings breakfast. Other days, there's cereal-that-reminds-them-of-childhood and coffee. Either way, it's all good. We're on vacation.

Cafe la llave

Our first day here, the kids asked,  "Can we just order a pizza from the beach for lunch?"

Calling from the beach

Answer: "Of course. We're on vacation."

Del mar pizza

Eric unwinds best when he surfs, so the first thing he did was wax down his board. There's something to be said for a happy husband. He's obviously on vacation.

Eric surfing

We're usually here on the week that we celebrate our wedding anniversary and Lucy's birthday. Our tradition has been to go to Little Italy in San Diego to our favorite Italian restaurant called Filippi's Pizza Grotto.

Lucy was in LA for the summer, so we bumped our vacation to this week. But that's not stopping us from celebrating. It just means our celebration has been postponed.

Little italy

Little Italy is all kinds of charming. You have to wait in line inside the Italian market to get to the restaurant in the back.

Walking through market

Walking to filippis

Our theme for the dinner was "Red Food." (I cracked my self up right there. Can you tell I'm already relaxing?)

Italian food

Eric decided to surprise us and took us to the epic Mr. A's for dessert. It was a beautiful and clear night, with the lights of downtown San Diego just below us. Quite magical.

Mr A's

And that was just our first day.

Most days we sit around unwinding in our own distinct ways. We spend most of them on the beach for at least part of the day. We will have friends come down and visit sometime during the week. We play lots of games and take long walks on the beach. And we build sandcastles.

Also, we are definitely getting to the Del Mar Racetrack because that's one of the things on my Summer Manifesto. Of course.

The only rule is that there are no rules. This is our one week when we've given ourselves permission to do everything or nothing. This is our week to be very deliberate in re-charging, collectively and independently.


We're. On. Vacation.

I share my day-to-day vacation silliness on Instagram. If you're on there, you should follow me. I'm Smrtqbn.

I have to go now. The sun just broke through the clouds and my beach chair is calling...

It started with the meltdown in Tribeca...

[WARNING: Brutally honest sharing ahead. Proceed at your own risk. You've been warned.]

I so didn't want to blog about this. I over-share enough as it is. But in the interest of "keeping it real," I'm going to go ahead and tell you what happened...

Remember when I told you I that Plantar Fasciitis is a Big Jerk? Well, I have been trying to get on with my life and basically I have been wearing an ankle brace and medicating when the pain got too bad. (I know that's not the wisest course of action. I'm just being honest.)

Walking in tribeca

So I got myself to New York last month to cook Pastelitos for 100, which was a tremendously fun experience, but I seriously overdid it. I was on my feet, my ridiculous-how-much-pain-I'm-in feet, for twelve (!) hours. I hate to admit that I had to pop vicodin most of the day just to get through it, but there you have it.

This was, of course, after Eric reminded me dozens of times before I left, "Don't overdo it! Remember you're still healing."

I had planned to take a late flight home from New York the day after my gig with the CCC of NY so that I could have one really fun sightseeing day in the city. The Foodie Tour had already happened the night before and lucky for me, my friends were gracious enough to drive me everywhere so I didn't have to do too much walking. But even then, every step was pretty painful.

All I had read (from Dr. Google) was that plantar fasciitis hurt with the first couple of steps and eventually improved. This was not my experience. My personal experience was that the first couple of steps were excruciating and then the vicodin took the edge off the pain, which never really diminished.

I'm a little hard-headed about these things, so I soldiered on. Ignoring the pain for as long as I could, then medicating when I absolutely had to.

I had made plans on the Monday after my Twelve (!) Hour Cooking Day to go to the Museum of Modern Art and take in the Rain Room Exhibit and maybe find a cronut. (We all know how that turned out.) No go.

Because when I woke up on Monday morning in my hotel room in Tribeca, I. Could. Not. Walk.

At all.

Because I had been limping for so many hours, my left knee (plantar fasciitis is in the right foot) which was taking all the stress was swollen to about twice its size. (Oh, why am I even sharing this? I know. Life without pretending.)

I was so nauseated from all the vicodin the day before that I could not stand to take any more. I was in so much distress to find myself 3,000 miles from home, on my own, and unable to get around. So I cancelled my plans with my friend. My one sightseeing day in New York City was not going to happen. Not only that, but how was I even going to get out of my bed?

The Tribeca Sheraton was very gracious to let me check out really late without incurring any extra charges. (For this act of kindness I will be loyal to them forever.) I hobbled over to the ice machine which was just down the hall and made some ice packs for my knee and for my foot. (Are you bored with reading this horror story yet?) And I drank tons of water, hoping to flush my system as much as possible.

Then I started to feel a little better. I decided that I wouldn't attempt to get to Times Square, but that I would go see the new World Trade Center Memorial, which was much nearer to where I was staying.

I grabbed a taxi and got to the WTC.

World trade center

It was really breathtaking. But it was also 95 degrees and about 80% humidity. I took photos and decided I could maybe walk a little in the area of Lower Manhattan.

What a poor choice that was! Without making this more excruciating for you who are reading this, I ended up walking around for over an hour just trying to find a taxi to get me back to Tribeca and the cool comfort of my hotel lobby.

I held it together until I finally walked into the lobby of the Sheraton Tribeca and then.....

The sobs were loud and oh-so audible to everyone. And I couldn't stop. I was tired and in pain and so very far from home. Pobrecita! (Poor me.)

Too many hours later, as my flight finally started to descend into Orange County, I breathed a very long and emotional sigh of relief.


I've never, ever, been so glad to be home. So, all in all, it was a fantastic trip... until it wasn't.

I finally jumped (figuratively, not literally, because, hello! I'm still in pain) through all the insurance hoops to get my long overdue appointment with a podiatrist who did an untra-sound and was shocked (shocked!) that I could even stand up, let alone walk.

"You have stress fractures along both sides of your ankle. We'll have to immobilize the foot for at least three weeks."

Which brings me to today. I take full responsibility for my personal stupidity and hard-headedness.

The boot

I'm wearing this lovely and super attractive inflatable cast. (Who knew there was such a thing?)

And I promise I'm being very obedient to stay off my feet for the requisite 3 weeks.

As the late, great Cuban comedian, Alvarez Guedes used to say, "Te paso por comem**rda.*"

I know. Shut up.


*"It happened to you because you' idiot." (For my non-Cuban readers, it's a less-than-PG-rated descriptive word, but that's not important right now.) *sigh*

My (Accidentally Cool) NYC Foodie Tour

 Warning: Lots of fabulous food photos and details of my Foodie trip to NYC. Proceed at your own risk.

My plan was to arrive in New York, get to my hotel and maybe explore a little bit of the Tribeca area where I was staying before my Cooking Pastelitos for 100 gig on Sunday. I was traveling alone, which doesn't bother me. It was just the getting-from-one-place-to-another that I had to figure out.

The best direct flight was into Newark (which didn't look that far from my hotel on the map), but then that left me having to find my way into the city from New Jersey.

I put the word out on Facebook, hoping that maybe some of my local New York FB friends would tell me the best way to navigate their world.

NY moment
Here I am in Tribeca having a quintessential New York Minute.

Enter my amazing and generous MBFCF readers...

Arriving in the City

"We would love to meet you and pick you up from the airport."

So it was that I arrived in Newark and was greeted by sweet Christy, her husband Koe, and their beautiful daughter, Sunny. I got to spend the first leg of my trip chatting with these lovely people and bonding over our Cuban similarities in spite of living on opposite coasts.

Christy in car
The ride from Newark to Soho.

Our route took us through the famous Holland Tunnel, which apparently is 10 times more crowded at any other time, but that's not important right now.

Holland tunnel

Christy & me

We arrived at the hotel where the Rodriguez's dropped off a very tired and very, very grateful Marta. (Also, isn't that the über-cutest child you've ever, ever seen?)

The NY Foodie Tour

I'd just arrived in New York City and frankly, I was hungry. I know enough about New York that answering the "where to eat?" question was not a simple thing, unless, of course, I was willing to get corner-store pizza (I was definitely not willing). New York has every kind of food in every kind of neighborhood, some more accessible than others.

Enter MBFCF readers Mario and Michele. He is Cuban and knows how much I love Cuban food, but I also mentioned that I'd be having Cuban food all day at CCC of NY event.

"We'll pick you up and we have a great plan for the evening to make sure you get to enjoy the best NYC food experience possible."

Obviously, I was in a beggars-can't-be-choosy position here. Also, I had seen enough of their photos on Instagram to know I was in good culinary hands. Plus, they totally understood that I was all about documenting the magic at all times which, gratefully, Mario subscribes to also. So I didn't feel too weird about taking pictures of my food and uploading them to my Instagram account.

Documenting the magic

(Parenthetically, if you're not following my adventures on Instagram, you totally should. I'm Smrtqbn.)

Mario & cam

NYC Foodie Tour Stop #1: Nom Wah Tea Parlor. Chinatown.

Nom Wah Tea Parlor • 13 Doyers Street, New York, NY 10013(212) 962-6047

The oldest Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. It opened in 1920. Click here for a fascinating history of Nom Wah.

Nom wah

It was just around the corner down a narrow and slightly scary old New York Chinatown street, just sitting there awesomely in all its slightly dive-y glory.

Nom wah dim sum

We started at Nom Wah with appetizers, or Dim Sum in Chinese, consisting of a variety of egg rolls, dumplings and buns. I'd never had, but fell totally in love with the Steamed Shrimp Sui Mai (top left with the green pea in the center), Roast Pork Buns (bottom left) and fried Sesame Balls.

Chinese appetizers

Let me be perfectly clear (lest it appears by the photographic documentation that we had completely thrown caution to the wind and were decadently indulging our inner gluttons): We didn't eat every, single thing. We mostly just sampled so that we got a taste of everything, and also so we could have room to enjoy the rest of the food on the tour. The night, after all, was young.

NYC Foodie Tour Stop #2: Katz's Delicatessen. Lower East Side.

Katz's Delicatessen • 205 E Houston St.,  New York, NY 10002 • (212) 254-2246

The central highlight of the New York Food Experience - good, old-fashioned, New York deli food.

Katz's deli

Katz is where the infamous "I'll have what she's having" scene from When Harry Met Sally was filmed.

When harry met sally

Also, they give you an interesting ticket with numbers that are part of some kind of elaborate deli code when you first arrive. And heaven help you if you lose this Very Important Ticket. There's a $50 fine for losing it. Don't ask me why. The ticket is then turned in when you go to pay. If you have the actual back story as to why this is a thing, please share.

Katz ticket

So, what to order? Everything on the menu looked so tempting.

We started off with a plate of Pickled Things. Sweet, salty, and oh-so-lip-puckery. I'd never tasted pickled green tomatoes. (I guess it's an acquired taste.)

Katz pickles & tomatoes

Then we ordered Katz's Deli Seltzer and Dr. Brown's Celery Soda. (Because regular soda is for sissys.)

Katz seltzer

For the main meal, we decided that the hand-cut (!) pastrami on rye was mandatory, or better yet, real kosher hot dogs with mustard and sauerkraut. Or both!

Katz hot dogs

Again, let me reiterate that we split all of this deliciousness. (We were hungry. We did not have a death wish.) And although the hand-cut pastrami was fantastic, I could barely finish my 4th of the sandwich. (Plus there was one more food stop after this and we had to pace ourselves.)

This particular sauerkraut was wonderful. It had just enough tang to add lots of flavor but not overpower the hot dog. Being a novice at this, I don't know if all sauerkraut is the same everywhere. I've never really enjoyed it before this, so I'm guessing Katz's features the Cadillac of All Sauerkraut.

I just have to interject here that Michele, who was driving (in New York, people!) was the Goddess of the Perfect Parking Job. She could not only find, but she managed to squeeze her mafia-sized car into any spot that any New York City street accidentally offered up. Minstrels should sing songs about her ability to maneuver a car in between two others the way she did all over the city. (You, Michele, are my hero.)

Brooklyn br

NYC Foodie Tour Stop #3: Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain. Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain • 513 Henry St.,  Brooklyn, NY 11231 • (718) 522-6260

Brooklyn bridge.jps

Home of the Famous Traditional Brooklyn Egg Cream. (Which, interestingly, has neither egg nor cream in it.)

Brooklyn farmacy

The Brooklyn Farmacy & Soda Fountain is a beautifully restored old-school 1920's soda fountain in the very gentrified Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Brooklyn farm b&w

The atmosphere was 1920's-soda-jerk cool. The service was wonderful. The egg cream truly delicious. (Milk, soda water, and some truly amazing chocolate that doesn't exist on my coast.) That's the egg cream in the next photo, on the right.)

We also stumbled upon something called a Mr. Potato Head on the menu which involved vanilla ice cream, real peanut butter, caramel sauce and potato chips. Did you catch that? Potato chips! And caramel sauce! Over ice cream! (I guess you just had to be there...)

Potato Head

Okay, so I had a taste and I didn't love it. But then I don't particularly love peanut butter. And I'm not a huge fan of ice cream, either. But I really loved the idea of it. Ice cream and potato chips - together at last! Genius.

This is where our tour ended for the night. I felt like I got a fantastic sampling of all the gastronomical wonders that New York City holds. Bonus: I got to spend a really fun evening with the greatest people you will ever meet.

My blog has allowed me to have some really amazing opportunities. At the top of the list of Reasons I Love Blogging would be: Spending time with the most generous and thoughtful people on the planet. That would be my Cuban Cubiches.

Thank you, Koe, Christy, Mario, and Michele. You are the reason I *heart* New York.

 Also, next time we will find that cronut. 

Pastelitos de Guayaba. For 100.

When I agreed to go to New York City to bake pastelitos de guayaba* for the Cuban Cultural Center of New York's (Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York) 12th Annual Congress, I was not quite sure what I'd gotten myself into.

*Pastelitos de Guayaba. n. A Cuban pastry made with a delicate flaky crust and a filling of guava and sometimes guava and cream cheese. See Refugiados.

First a disclaimer, I have made my Homemade Pastelitos de Guayaba countless times. So many in fact, I can practically do it in my sleep. Of course, that's in my own kitchen. With my own pans. And my own family to help if necessary. It's pretty simple and relatively quick, though not without some struggles - specifically, guava paste is kind of a sticky pain to cut.

When I arrived at the International Culinary Center of Manhattan by myself, I wondered if I had bitten off more pastelito than I could chew.(<--see what I did there?)

(Please excuse the graininess of the photos. All were taken with my iPhone and I was experiencing a very high level of jet-laggy-exhaustion, and I know there's an over-abundnace of "selfies" in here. Just ignore that and enjoy.)

Culinary institute

I arrived at the International Culinary Center of Manhattan at 7:30 am on Sunday morning. I need to tell you right here how accidentally cool I felt when they opened the doors and let me into this Mecca of Endlessly Amazing Kitchens.

International culinary theater

The agenda for the day was to explore Cuban Cuisine: del casabe al mojito and let me tell you, that's exactly how it went down. I hope to get more photos and the recipes from the other Cuban chefs to share, but today I'm just telling you about my own personal experience cooking for 100 hungry Cubans in the Fabulous Kitchens of Perfection.

Pastelito ingredients

They were gracious enough to pick up the items I needed from the grocery list I sent beforehand. And I set to work, unwrapping pastry and cutting up guava paste (did I mention this is the most sticky and difficult part of this endeavor?) and preparing tray after tray of Refugiados (guava and cream cheese pastries).

Pastelitos before baking

The biggest challenge was trying to keep the attendees from snagging the pastelitos as they cooled before my 3:00 pm presentation. Picture this: A roomful of hungry hungry Cubans. The intoxicating aroma of melting guava permeating the air with the promise of Guava Awesomeness. They just couldn't help themselves. I can't say I blame them.

I also have to interject that because the theme was Cuban food, and because the sponsors were Victor's Cafe and Goya Foods, there was no lack of Cuban Flavored Deliciousness available all day long.

In fact, it was quite an embarrassment of Cuban Food Richness as tray after tray of food came out from one kitchen after another. (I seriously have to get the photos and recipes from the other chefs. There's no way I can do any of their creations justice.)

Victor's Cafe provided lunch. And believe me, everything they served was Cuban Crazy-Awesome.

Arroz con pollo, Ropa Vieja, Fritas, Lechón, Moros, Croquetas, Ceviche. Everything was seriously, to die for.

PicMonkey Collage Cuban food

Now, while all this fabulous food service is going on, I'm still running back and forth between the Pastry Kitchen and the one stove I could figure out how to turn on, setting my timer for 25 minutes and checking on the cooling pastelitos, which were making a giant guava mess everywhere and I was seriously starting to panic and hey! did you just take another one of my pastelitos, mister? Don't think I don't see you trying to hide it in that napkin! I was only able to peek in to the other presentations because, well,  I was baking pastelitos for 100. (I actually made something like 160, but that's not important right now.)

Martas pastelitos de guayaba

Once they cooled and I was able to move them over to the large tray, they looked (and smelled!) pretty presentable.

When it came time for me to give my presentation, I pretty much completely forgot everything I was going to say. (Seriously, how sad is that?) Also, my hair was crazy-kinky-out-of-control-my-God-New-York-is-so-hot-and-humid curly, which I just had to not care about and carry on.

Marta in the pastry kitchen
Me in the Pastry Kitchen of Awesome with my Uber-curls.

So I just spoke from my heart. I spoke about the love I have for our Cuban culture and how I am trying (pretty successfully, I think) to pass our traditions on and make them more accessible to the next generation, which is one of the major reasons why I blog.

I completely spaced on the "here's how to make pastelitos" part of my presentation, (I know. Shut up.) so I just sort of went through the motions. I think someone actually got this fiasco all on film, but I know for a fact that none of the participants were disappointed. The proof as they say, is in the pudding pastelito.

Pastelitos & recipe

I also took recipe cards to share, which you can download for free by clicking on this link right here. You're welcome...

Guayaba Heaven: Los Pastelitos de Marta.

Trust me. No one went hungry.

Martas pastelitos & recipe

Many thanks again to the CCC of NY for the invitation and for letting me share my love of Cuban food, my heart and my pastelitos.

The Circle of Life

Some (very simplified, don't judge me) Cuban History for today:

In 1902, a bloody war had been fought between Cuba and Spain for Cuba's independence. The Cuban's won. It was quite a crushing defeat for the Spanish. They never quite recovered from it.

The president of the United States at that time was Theodore Roosevelt who had actually fought with his Rough Riders in Cuba and believed in Cuban independence.

On May 20th, 1902 Cuba was declared free of Spanish rule and winner of the war. (Not sure exactly how this is achieved. I picture a boxing ring and a referree holding up the hand of the winner, but that's probably not how it happened, and for sure it's not important right now.) Cuba was free.

May 20th is still celebrated as Cuban Independence Day.

Cuban embassy invitation

(I found this somewhere in my archives. It reads:

"In celebration of the Anniversary of the Independence of Cuba

The Ambassador of Cuba

requests the pleasure of our compnay

at a reception

On Thursday, May the twentieth

at ten o'clock p.m.

Rsvp                                     Cuban Embassy"


The U.S. had been involved in this Spanish American war and was now committed to helping the Cubans rebuild. One of the proposed initiatives was to send Cuban teachers to Washington D.C. to the White House to be honored as the best in their country and given support and materials to take back to Cuba. 

Why all the history? I had a conversation with my mother, Luza last week....

Me: "I've been invited to the White House!"

Luza: "Then you'll be the 2nd one in our family."

I scoured my mental rolodex trying to remember who exactly in the family had received an invitation to the White House. As it turned out, she was referring to her own mother, Osmunda Perez-Puelles, one of the teachers chosen by President Roosevelt to be honored there. That was in 1902.

Familia perez-puelles

This photo was taken much later, obviously. Circa 1959. That's my grandmother, Osmunda, in the center surrounded by her (grown) children.

Fast forward to this week in My big, fat, Cuban family's history:

I am honored and humbled to announce that I was chosen as one of the Top Latina Blogueras by Latism (*Latinos in Social Media). And I also received an invitation to the White House. (I know. Shut up.)

Invitation to the White House

Here I am surrounded by my supportive (and long-suffering) husband and (grown) children.

Familia Darby

As you read this, I will already be on my way to Washington D.C. to represent. Represent what?

My culture, my heritage, my passion for all that is good and holy about family.  This is why I write my stories and invite you into my world. And now I'm getting some cool recognition. From the White House. On the exact 110th anniversary of Cuban Independence. Coincidence? I think not.

It's the circle of life.

Happy 20 de Mayo!

3:05 Cafecito break in the 305 (area code)

I just got back from a fabulous trip to South Florida (more about this later). One of the biggest draws for me when I am visiting Miami (Area Code 305), besides visiting family and enjoying the mostly perfect beach weather is, of course, the Cuban food.

Bistec de palomilla, moros y cristianos, maduros (you could die from such beauty):

Bistec encebollado

I had this suberb meal at a place called Casavana in Homestead, Florida.

Another very Cuban phenomenon in South Florida is the mass consumption at all hours of the day and night of authentic Cuban espresso. Always ordered with the diminutive "-ito" at the end.

"Un cortadito."

"Una coladita."

"Un cafecito."

"Un (insert your favorite coffee drink)-ito."

When I'm at home I don't usually have much more than two cups of mild coffee in an entire day, but being in the 305 makes me crave Cuban coffee after every meal and at all hours. It must be a recessive gene stimulated by geographical proximity to the Motherland.

If nothing else, we have an informal "coffee break" in the afternoons. At my house, we call it Taka Taka Time. (If you're on Facebook you can "like" Taka Taka" here.)

Watch my daughter, Amy Kikita making coffee and you will understand about the Taka Taka at about the 1:37 mark. (What's up with all these numbers today, Marta?)

Which begs the question: what time exactly is Taka Taka Time? In Miami, there's a movement to make 3:05 (like the area code) the official Miami Cafecito Break Time. I love that!  That's right. Thanks to the genius of JennyLee Molina of JLPR who came up with the concept and my friend, Elena Santayana Power, who shared it with me (of Santayana Jewelers, who also happen to be in the 305, but that's not important right now) the 3:05 Miami Cafecito Break has its own Fan page. Click here to "like."

Although, I'm thinking that here on the West Coast, the Cafecito time would be at 3:10. (For those of you who don't know, since Pitbull never sang about our area codes, 310 is the area code for greater Los Angeles. You're welcome.)

There is something so sublime about that first sip of freshly brewed Cuban espresso with the perfect Killer Espuma®.  (Please ignore my 305-frizzy hair as this photo was taken in the middle of a rain storm. Thankyouverymuch.)

Cafe Cubano

I got so used to the multiple coladas during the day, that I had a hard time adjusting to the lack of Café Cubano windows on every corner like there are in The 305.

So much so that I had to resort to the next best thing, but at 3:10, of course. I know. Shut up.

Three coffees

The Neon Boneyard Adventure

Eric and I just got back from a really fun getaway to Las Vegas.

As you know, we go to Vegas a few times a year (because we can, and because my very favorite childhood hearthrob lives very close to there. *sigh*). And we pretty much know the place by heart. We have seen lots of great shows there and stayed at some of the best hotels. 

My big, fat, Cuban family celebrates birthdays there and there has even been a renewal of wedding vows with an Elvis impersonator. Seriously.

This last weekend we were excited to visit a place that was kind of legendary but has up to now been so far off the beaten path that we've never been able to get there. And believe me, we have tried.

It's the place where old neon goes to die.

The Neon Boneyard.

Eric & Me at Neon

Well, technically it's now officially called The Neon Museum and they're finally getting their act together and are organizing tours (by appointment only) and turning it into an official Place To See in Vegas.

(NOTE: I added watermarks to the photos because I signed a sworn and official-looking-document in which I promised a pint of blood and my first male child - sorry, Adam! - that I would not profit in any way from these images.)

We were able to take a guided tour through the piles of rusted metal and broken lights and I was in Absolute Vegas-Nerd Heaven.


Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable in Vegas lore which added to the fabulousness of the adventure. Although, I have to admit that because I've been going to Vegas since the 70's I recognized some of the old classic signs myself.

I dug up this old photo of me on The Strip in 1977. Notice the signs in the background.

(I have helpfully included arrows to call attention to the portions of the sign that I found at the Boneyard. And while I'm at it, what was up with all the photo paper in the 70's? It took me a ton of Photoshopping to make this image even visible! But that's not important right now.)

Stardust 77 with arrows

Lido copy

Stars 2 copy


The Stardust happened to be my dad's favorite place to play. (Yes, I had to take it all in for just a moment.)

Isn't that just sooo accidentally cool?

Some of the history behind a few of the signs were new to me. I'm glad we had a guide to point stuff out. Who knew that the House of Lords Steakhouse at the Sahara was a regular hangout of the Rat Pack? (I know. Shut up.)

House of lords

My favorite thing about the Boneyard was all the stories and history connected to the signage. I am old enough to have watched Las Vegas Blvd. (aka The Strip) change and grow over the years. So I felt a certain amount of nostalgia.

See the old lamp from the Aladdin? The diamond-shaped stars from the Stardust? See the portion of pink "feathers" from the Flamingo Hilton?


See the Uber-Nerdy Couple from California making fools of themselves among the rusted and twisted metal?


No? How about now? =D

E & me

Do you have Vegas memories to share? Tell me.

Ten years later. I will never forget.

Ten years ago at the end of September of 2011, my daughter and Amy went to New York City. 

We were there exactly two weeks after Muslim jihadists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center buildings and left a gaping hole in the New York skyline and in our collective American consciousness.

The wreckage was still smoldering and burning and the black cloud was still very visible from everywhere in Manhattan when we arrived. 

Fire fighters from all over the country and the world were there helping in the recovery efforts. Human remains were being pulled from the wreckage that day and photos were forbidden. 

Do not cross

The line of ambulances and coroner's wagons wrapped around the block. I remember that the crowd of us looky-loos stood there stupidly, impotently, reverently. Most of us had were teary-eyed and choking back emotion. The devastation was so much bigger in person than on our tv screens.

How could this have happened in our America?

After what seemed like the longest time, we left the scene quietly, deep in sorrow and contemplation. 

We walked all over Manhattan taking in the touristy sites that were still accessible. Marveling in the amount of volunteers that had descended upon the city. 

Then we turned a corner and came up on this makeshift altar:

Station 8

It was at this spot that my emotions, which were already raw from the past two weeks, found an outlet. I didn't care that I was sobbing audibly. I didn't care because everyone around me was doing the same. 


Eric and I returned to Lower Manhattan in May of 2009 with Lucy and Jonathan.

WTC site May 2009

They were so young when the attacks happened that we had not told them exactly what had transpired on 9/11. Now we used the words "jihad" and "terrorists" in proper context. I hated having to tell them the story. I hated participating in the theft of their innocence.

But we were also able to tell the story of true courage. Of real heroes. Of the selflessness of men running into burning buildings and of the first Americans to engage in the War on Terror on Flight 93 that ended in deaths in a field in Pennsylvania. 

We told them of the volunteers that came from everywhere to help with the clean up. And how the caps with the initials FDNY became the accessory of the day. 

Badges from St

This was taken in St. Paul's Chapel, which now houses most of the memorabilia from those terrible days after the attacks. 

We told them of the miracle of Trinity Church and St. Paul's chapel which remained standing while everything around them crumbled. 

During the September 11, 2001 attacks, as the 1st tower collapsed, people took refuge from the massive debris cloud inside the church. Falling wreckage from the collapsing tower knocked over a giant sycamore tree that had stood for nearly a century in the churchyard of St. Paul's Chapel which is part of Trinity Church's parish and is located several blocks north of Trinity Church. Sculptor Steve Tobin used its roots as the base for a bronze sculpture that stands next to the church today.

Trinity church roots of tree 

We felt patriotism and pride when we saw the Ten Truck. (Members of the FDNY Ladder Company #10.)

Ten truck

We touched the bronze wall of the FDNY Memorial Wall and read the 343 names of the firefighters that perished on September 11, 2001.

Memorial wall

The wall reads:

"Dedicated to those who fell and those who carry on. May we never forget." 

We lit a candle in memory of the fallen.

Lighting a candle

Now it is 10 years later and we are 3,000 miles away. Time and distance has separated us from the horrific events of that terrible day in September.

But, I promise you, I will never forget.

"The time for mourning may pass, but the time for remembering never does." ~ George W. Bush

{To view Amy Kikita's video tribute, An MTV Generation, click here.}