Cuban Ajiaco Recipe in a Slow Cooker

Cuban Ajiaco Recipe in a Slow Cooker

I made some Ajiaco in my crockpot and I just have to share it. But first some background...

In the 1930’s, Cuban President Gerardo Machado made a proclamation that once a week everyone on the island would eat an “ajiaco” – a type of country stew made mostly with root vegetables and flavored with meat. According to my mom (a 93-year-old guajira) every restaurant, fonda, and home followed the “weekly ajiaco” rule. It was a way to use all the different root vegetables indigenous to Cuba, taking advantage of what was available in each province.

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CUBA NIGHT at Dodger Stadium - Ahora Sí!

As you well know, it's my great pleasure to be a part of the Cuban Heritage Day at Dodger Stadium Committee

For one, we get to have our meetings at Porto's, but that's not important right now. What's so very cool this year is that the Dodgers love our Cubanity (<--that's a word, rightr?) so much that they've added a Cuba Night At Dodger Stadium

How awesome is this? 

The fun goes down on Monday. May 11th at 7:10pm against the Miami Marlins. Mark it on your calendars and make it happen!

For every person that buys a ticket through for that night, you'll receive a voucher for a commemorative Cuba/Puig t-shirt.

Cuba Night tshirt

Are we having fun yet?

Of course I'll be there along with My Big, Fat, Cuban Family. (Thanks for asking.) We'll be the ones wearing Dodger Blue and yelling "Dále!" at Yasiel Puig and eating the Cuban Dodger Dogs. Here is my recap from last year


Because that's the way of our people. 

Just so there's no confusion, we also have a Cuban Heritage Day at Dodger Stadium over the summer.


This year the 3rd Annual Cuban Heritage Day is on Sunday, July 12th, 2015. 

Please follow Cuban Heritage Day at Dodger Stadium on Facebook for all the details. 


For Cuban Heritage Day at Dodger Stadium in July, here's what you need to know for tickets and tshirts.

Habana Brand Clothing is accepting pre-orders now thru May 1st, at a special Pre-Order Price of $20.00 - after May 1st the on-line price will be $25.00.

Cuban heritage day tshirts


Orders will be shipped early May. We are only producing a very limited amount of these shirts, so do not be left out! Wear it proudly when you join your family and friends at Dodger Stadium for the cultural celebration of the 3rd annual Cuban Heritage Day on Sunday, July 12th.

The Cuban-themed Viva Los Dodgers festival will begin 2 hours prior to first pitch and fans can enjoy festive live music, player autographs and various activities.

Admission to Viva Los Dodgers is free with a paid ticket to the game. We will also be selling the t-shirts on various dates at Porto's Bakeries. Click on the following link to place your pre-order:

Habana Brand Cuban Heritage Day at Dodger Stadium tshirts.

Is it summer yet?

The Quinceañera Story and A Homemade Mayonnaise Recipe

My mom just recently celebrated her 101st birthday. (It's still weird to say that.)

As people do when they get older, she repeats stories that she particularly likes or maybe it's that the memory gets fresher as time passes. Either way, as her birthday approached, she would tell the story of her 15th birthday. 

In Cuba, as in other spanish-language countries, the 15th birthday is a Big Deal. It's the quinceañera, people! 

For her 15th birthday, which she celebrated in 1929, she received a few gifts from her mother and great aunts. This day might have been lost down the memory hole, but for the other gift that she received that day, which was this photograph.

Luza 2007 1

Her gifts were that beautiful Spanish Comb in her hair and the mantilla she's wearing. She also remembers vividly one of her aunts making her a big jar of delicious homemade mayonnaise. 

This is the memory that stops her in her tracks. She gets this dreamy look on her face as she time travels back to the taste of The Best, Most Delicious Homemade Mayonnaise. It was made with olive oil and eggs and a squeeze of lemon and apparently it was to die for.

I've heard the Quinceañera and Mayonnaise story a million times. And as we were approaching her 101st birthday, I was at a loss for what to get her as a gift. I wanted it to be special. 

Wait. What if I made homemade mayonnaise?

Yes. Perfect.

I wanted to make it simple, but I wanted the flavor to be exquisite. It's a simple process, but it's also a science experiment that can quickly go wrong if the ingredients don't emulsify well. 


Luza's Homemade Mayonnaise


  • 1 egg yolk (at room temperature - very important!)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (I went with a Meyer lemon for color and flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 tablespoon mustard 
  • 1 cup olive oil (I used garlic infused avocado oil for a lighter flavor)
  • Salt to taste (I like kosher salt)
  • Container for the mayonnaise, preferably with a top, like a mason jar



1) Place egg yolk, lemon juice, water, and mustard in jar.


2) Slowly pour over olive oil and gently whisk together. I used a whisk at the beginning, but traded up to an immersion blender towards the end.

What you're looking for is for the emulsification which is a fancy word for "when it thickens up."


3) Season with kosher salt to taste. Can be stored in the refrigerator for about 3 to 4 weeks.

NOTE: It came out that dark yellow color because I used a Meyer lemon and organic egg yolks which tend to have more color. The taste was worth it.

Full disclosure: The unthinkable happened. It didn't emulsify on the first round.

I HAD BROKEN THE MAYONNAISE! I collapsed into a defeated mess. After all that careful choosing of the perfect ingredients and careful blending, I had failed. *sigh*

Thank goodness for Google, my self-esteem (and the mayonnaise) were not beyond repair.

Here's a tip: If your mayonnaise doesn't emulsify, get another clean bowl into which you add 2 room temperature egg yolks and a teaspoon of cold water. 

Now, add your broken mayonnaise to that and blend away. At this point I used the immersion blender because I was starting to feel a little superstitious, but that's not important right now.


Hallelujah! It worked!


My mom loved it. She was thrilled that I remembered the story. (Which, of course, was easy, because she's told it a bizzillion times, but that's not important right now.)

The party was a great success as we celebrated her 101 years on this earth. She was surrounded by those she loves most and it was a super happy day.


Are you looking for a perfect gift for your 101 year old parent? May I suggest a jar of homemade mayonnaise? 

Cuban Opposition Leader Atuñez to Speak in LA on February 16th

To be Cuban is to be invested in the political outcomes of the island. Whether we live there or not.

We are all such crazy opinionated, and vocal people. I don't know if it was always this way, or if it's just what has happened in the last 56 years as the Castros destroyed our beloved homeland. 

People often ask me why the Cuban people just don't rise up and rebel against the communist government. The truth is that there are many brave souls who do. One such person is Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, better known as Antuñez. 


Imprisoned for 17 years in the Castro gulag, he has continued his resistance to the regime and has always called for the freedom of the Cuban people at great personal cost. For more information about his struggle, click here

On Monday, February 16th, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez and his wife, Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera will be in Los Angeles for a very special event. They will be sharing their experiences of life in today's Cuba and their views on what the truth of diplomatic relations could look like. 

I'm inviting all of my LA people to join us to support them at this free event. 

Monday, February 16th, 2015

9:00 AM

CML Studios

326 Mira Loma Avenue

Glendale, CA 91204

Flyer English

I hope to see you there.

To learn more about the plight of Cuban political prisoners and activists please visit my friend, Marc Masferrer's blog, Uncommon Sense and, of course, Babalú Blog.

Cuban Food Poster - Winners

Seriously, people. I read every single one of your comments and I swear that your love for Cuban food shows right through. Thank you all for participating and sharing your favorite foods and your stories behind them. 

I'm grateful that you are enjoying my poster. Thank you for that. I love mine. And I figured you'd love it, too. 


I wish I could choose all of you, but that's why I can't be trusted with these kinds of decisions. Which is why I go over to and plug the number of (legit) entries into the True Random Number Generator, which then gives me well, random numbers.

The winners of the Cuban Food Posters are (drum roll, please)...

Screenshot 2015-01-14 11.09.24


Screenshot 2015-01-14 11.11.04


Screenshot 2015-01-14 11.12.31

Congratulations! Please send me an email with HEY, MARTA! I WON STUFF ON YOUR BLOG! in the subject line (so I don't accidentally delete it) and be sure to include your mailing address and I will ship out your posters ASAP.

For those of you who were so patiently waiting and did not win, you still have the option to head on over to my Etsy shop and buy the poster for yourself, or for your Mami, or for your Tia Cuca. She loves this kind of stuff.

Here's the link: Marta Darby Designs

Marta darby designs logo


I have two sizes of posters: 16" x 20" and 20" by 30". And also a 16" x 20" wrapped canvas. 


Thank you again for participating in my giveaway. I'd so love to see this poster in every single Cuban kitchen. 

The Thing About Being Cuban Right Now

I don't usually post political opinion here on my blog. I have on occasion written about politics regarding Cuba because it's not just politics to me. It falls more under the umbrella of home town gossip. 

Cuban politics in particular aren't just things that are happening 3,000 miles away. They affect real people in my life. People I am related to, or that I've met, or who's writings I read almost daily. 

On Wednesday, President Obama made the declaration that now was the time for the U.S. to be "normalizing" relations with Cuba. I had been traveling all day. Just returned from a family trip to Northern California and had not heard the announcement. But my inbox was full of inquiries from the media. Would I be willing to give my reaction to the president's announcement?

I was conflicted for a moment. I know how these discussion inevitably go. There's the "it's about damn time" group. They are of the opinion that Cubans will be better off as soon as U.S.-Cuba relations begin to thaw. The argument goes something like this: There will be a new influx of American currency into the now 3rd world (or is it 4th world?) country which will save the day. 

Always missing in this argument is the fact that Cuba has been able to trade with every other nation. Today there are tourists spending their hard currency on the streets of Havana, not making a bit of difference to the lives of everyday Cubans. Those are the ones with names and faces and children and dreams. They are the ones most affected in this drama. And all that money is going straight into the coffers of the Castros, who just happen to be millionaires, by the way. 

Also, the U.S. already provides food and medicine and goods to Cuba. (You didn't know that, did you?) The only difference is that, up to now, Cuba has had to pay for those. With this new U.S.-Cuba BFF system, it's like we've issued Cuba an unsecured credit card. Our taxpayer dollars get to prop up the declining Cuban economy. And what do we get in return? Umm...we get to go to Cuba and spend more of our money to buy what? Cigars? Coffee? Seriously?

Let me say here that I'm glad American Alan Gross has been released from his 5 year Cuban prison ordeal. He was "swapped" for the remaining members of the Cuban 5 who were serving long prison sentences for espionage and murder. Yes, you read that right. An innocent man incarcerated in a Cuban jail for 5 years exchanged for convicted spies and enemies to our nation. Remind me, please, how this is in any way fair?

There are also rumors that 53 other prisoners will be released. But there are thousands. What about them? Will all the political prisoners be released? Why not? That means there really won't be any noticeable change. Next week, 53 more will take their place. That's how the communist apparatus keeps the population in line. 

I have so much I want to say. And I'm so conflicted.

In a perfect world, opening up relations between the U.S. and Cuba would make life easier for my family, the ones who are scraping by, making impossible ends meet every single day. Or would it? This particular world is far from perfect. And it's being run by a treacherous, murdering regime who care nothing for human rights or for the welfare of their people. That is the hard truth. 

The president wants to normalize relations with Cuba, but sadly, Cuba is not normal. 

I have thousands more words to write on this topic, but I'll just leave some links here and you can feel free to educate yourself. It's tough to be Cuban right now on either side of the Florida Straits. Because those of us who left early on in the revolution have tasted the bitterness of having all we loved ripped away and have also known the sweetness of growing up in freedom. Those still there in Cuba can't even remember what hope tastes like.

What do I wish the outcome of all this would be? A free Cuba. Sadly, I don't think that even came up in the talks between the Castros and the president.

And that's the saddest thing of all.


Here are some links. If you have any you'd like to add, please feel free to share in the comments of this post. 

My interview with KCET - In California, Announcement Seen From Varying Points of View.

My friend, Robert Molleda posted this very articulate essay on Facebook.

From Capitol Hill Cubans - Cuban Dissent Leaders React to Obama's Announcement.

From the PanAm Post - Only Cubans Can Save Cuba.

From HuffPo - In Cuba Policy Debates, Theories Don't Cut It.

From Cuban blogger, Yoani Sanchez - Goliath Opens His Wallet.

From my friend, Marc Masferrer over at Uncommon Sense - If U.S.-Cuba normalization doesn't free the Cuban people, it will fail.

From Gustavo Perez-Firmat - The Last Exiles.

From Gustavo Perez-Firmat's daughter, Miriam Perez - Why I Don't Want To Hear About Your Vacation To Cuba.

Follow updates from lots of sources over at Babalú Blog


The Cuban Table - A Winner

Do you know what I love most about running a comment giveaway on my site? Well...your comments. Seriously, I love hearing about who the best cook in your house is and about your favorite foods to cook. 

That, and I have some cool things to give away. I wish all of you could win because this is such a beautiful cookbook.

Or as we say in "good Cuban," Ana Sofia Peláez and Ellen Silverman, "You ATE it!"*

NOTE: *This particular Cuban phrase loses everything in translation. "Te la comiste" means that you did an amazing job. See? Everything sounds better in Spanish.

Congratulations to the winner:

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 11.23.59 AM

Beatriz Navia, you won! Please send me an email with "HEY, MARTA! I WON STUFF ON YOUR BLOG!" in the subject line. Include your mailing address so I can send you your very own copy of The Cuban Table. You are so going to love it!.

For the rest of you, you MUST get a copy of this cookbook. It's available on Amazon. Here's the link: The Cuban Table by Ana Sofia Peláez and Ellen Silverman

Thank you to Ellen Silverman Photography and Hungry Sofia. Congratulations on a beautiful project.

Buen Provecho!

The Cuban Table - A Giveaway

Last year I had the good fortune to participate in the  Cuban Cultural Center of New York's (Centro Cultural Cubano de Nueva York) 12th Annual Congress. You can read about that right here.

It was there that I met another one of the chefs involved in the event. Ana Sofia Peláez is the author of the very delicious food blog, hungry sofia. We shared a kitchen and chatted a bit as we made our own creations. That day she made Cucuruchos de Coco y Almendras for all of us (which were to die for!) and told the stories of how she had been traveling on a Cuban Food Adventure with the amazing food/travel photographer Ellen Silverman.

Together, Ana Sofia and Ellen went to Cuba and Miami (of course) and New York where they visited both Cuban home cooks and accomplished chefs who eagerly shared their stories and recipes and secrets to their own versions of favorite Cuban dishes. 

The culmination of all this traveling and eating and story-telling is the gorgeous cookbook: The Cuban Table - A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History by Ana Sofia Peláez and Ellen Silverman.

I received a few copies of this beauty earlier last week and have been delectably enjoying each story and every recipe. Rich with Cuban history and full of evocative photos of all the food that I desperately love, I have been slowly and carefully turning each page and taking notes and drinking it all in.

Part text book, part history book, part story book - believe me when I tell you that this is the quintessential must-have Cuban cookbook.

The photography and stories are so gorgeous and compelling that I'm conflicted about whether to keep it on my coffee table or to take it into my kitchen. Right now it's still sitting on my coffee table where I pick it up and commence reading where I left off yesterday. It's a beautiful thing.

I was delighted that she even included the recipe for make-your-own pastelitos de guayaba. Like my own recipe, but a thousand times more detailed and beautiful. Well-played, Ana Sofia.


I have an extra copy of this fabulous cookbook, The Cuban Table to give away. 

To enter this comment drawing, answer one or both of the following questions:

  • Who is the best cook in your family?
  • What's your very favorite Cuban dish in the whole-wide-world?

Leave one comment only, please! 

Remember that if you want to enter the drawing for this cookbook, you must leave a comment on this post and I'll choose ONE winner on Thursday, October 30th at 8 pm PST.

Gracias and Buen Provecho!

Cubamerican the Movie on DVD - Winners

I know that all of us Cubans who left our homeland because of the communist revolution have a story. Many of the stories sound pretty much the same, but of course, the details are slightly different and oh-so-very personal.

As I read over your comments on the last post, I could almost tangibly feel the pain and loss of each individual. 

It doesn't escape my notice that every single one of you remembers the exact date of your departure from Cuba. Some wounds never quite completely heal. 

Here are the stories I've collected so far: Cuando Sali de Cuba - stories of courage and hope. 

Cuando sali de Cuba

However, the gift of the film Cubamerican is that the stories that are told are of both loss and triumph. Having arrived here not knowing the customs or the language, we Cubans managed not just to survive, but to thrive. All the stories are fascinating and beautiful and resound with gratitude to this amazing nation that opened its arms to us exiles. It's a beautiful thing.


I have chosen 2 winners for the newly released DVD, Cubamerican. Here's how I choose: 

  1. I take the number of entries and plug that number into the True Random Number Generator at
  2. I count the entries until I reach the number that appears.
  3. I take a screen shot of the winner's answer and post it here.

The winners of the Cubamerican DVDs are:

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 10.15.20 AM


Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 10.15.44 AM



Please send me an email with HEY, MARTA! I WON STUFF ON YOUR BLOG! in the subject line. Include your mailing address and we will ship the DVD to you ASAP.

Thanks to all of you who entered this giveaway for sharing your stories with me. I will be doing another in the coming days.

If you haven't already purchased one, I still think you need to own a copy of this fabulous documentary. Here's the link: Cubamerican DVD

I'm extremely grateful to the generous folks at Cubamerican for making all of this possible.

Cuando Sali de Cuba - Stories of Courage and Hope

Cuando sali

My family moved to the U.S. reluctantly. 

When we left Cuba, we didn't know we were coming here for good. I think that's a part of our story as Cuban refugees that doesn't get much play. 

When we left our beloved homeland, we (when I say "we," I mean, my parents) thought it was only a temporary stay until that whole pesky revolution thing blew over. Obviously, it has not. 

The Verdes sisters circa 1961

The Verdés Sisters, circa 1961. Our 1st photo here in the U.S.

We began our life here in the U.S. based on the premise that it was going to be sort of a long vacation. Then we began calling it exile. Then there came a point when we knew for certain that there was no going back. 

It's Hispanic Heritage Month. From the 15th of September to the 15th of October, we, here in the U.S. celebrate the contributions of Hispanics to the fabric and culture of America.

For the past few years, here on my blog, I have celebrated the stories of Cuban families who came here and built beautiful lives as proud Americans. I call that series, "Cuando Sali de Cuba - stories of courage and hope."

Here's a link to all of the stories. Cuando Sali de Cuba.

Here's a video of my family in Cuba "back in the day" and in the here and now. Set to the beautiful song by Celia Cruz that inspired this series. The lyrics are especially poignant to me as well as to most Cuban refugees. 

That's right: Refugees. Not Immigrants.

Cuando salí de Cuba
dejé mi vida, dejé mi amor
Cuando salí de Cuba
dejé enterrado mi corazón.


When I left Cuba
I left behind my life, I left behind my love
When I left Cuba
I left my heart forever buried in the ground.

That just about sums it up.