And...they're off!

This is not the way I pictured it. 

I'm talking about my life as Eric and I approach our Twilight Years. Which are really more of a pale yellow at this point, but that's not important right now.

Here's how I pictured it:

My kids would all be grown and gone. I have never had any illusions that they'd stay home forever. That would be just plain weird. 

But I did picture them living nearby. And they'd be coming over for a weekly family dinner. And we'd sit around the table and I would bask in the love and fabulousness of the beautiful family I'd created. And we would grow. And the table would stretch to accomodate more. It would all be super noisy and delicious and there would be lots of laughter and smiles.

And that would be how Eric and I would live out our Twilight Years. Happily surrounded by our growing family and maybe investing in a bigger table.

But obviously God (and my growing family) have other plans for this whole Twilight Years business.


As you know, Amy Kikita moved to Florida last year. See this post about Changes. I wrote about all that last August and now, just recently, there have been so many more changes. Which is where I find myself today - thinking about all of this and questioning my Twilight Year Plan.

From that writing to now, Amy has landed a job in Sacramento, California. 400 miles away, but now she's at least on our coast and is only a one hour flight away. She's busy shopping for an apartment and furniture and settling in to her new (from the sound of it) Hipster lifestyle. 


Adam has taken a job in Washington D.C. with the Susan B. Anthony List. I'm quite excited for him as this is a great opportunity, but of course, that means he is clear across the country. Alysha and the baby are still here as he looks for a place to live, but they'll be leaving in about a month. I will miss them terribly. Especially my grandson, Asher.


However, we are happily offering our babysitting services as often as Alysha will let us.


Lucy moved out last September (see this post about Finding Her Place) and is adapting well to her new digs. She's also only a few minutes away right here in Mission Viejo, but she's busy starting her own graphic design business, so I have to bait her with use of my washer/dryer and food. It's working so far. (Food always works.) Who knows what her next adventure will bring?


Jonathan is in school and going from audition to audition, which means driving to Hollywood a few days a week. Some days I'm lucky enough to be called upon to be his carpool buddy. But I'm picturing the day he needs to move up there permanently. For now, he's still here with us.

But who knows for how much longer?


Here's how I'm dealing with all of it...

The weekend that Adam was set to leave, I bought Amy a plane ticket to come down and scheduled a family photo shoot and going away dinner. 

I contracted our friend and Master Photographer, Dan Shalaby to document the magic and we spent a few hours down at our favorite beach frolicking and posing. Or photobombing. Or just having fun together.

I just wanted one last hurrah before everyone went their separate ways.


Many Cuban mothers take issue with their kids moving away. I swear, I thought I'd totally be in that category. Until now.


Now, I'm just embracing the moments as they come. So grateful that we live in the age of Skype and FaceTime and texts and emails and Facebook and Instagram. (Also, I'm Smrtqbn on Instagram if you want to follow me.)


I love that they have developed their own relationships with each other. I'm no longer the glue that holds them together. Even though I am the one who insists on the photo shoots, but that's not important right now.


I'm grateful that they're all so much fun to be with and I'm looking forward to reinventing myself. 


I still can't get enough of my grandson, Asher. But that's the general consensus around here. That kid is seriously well-loved.


So I'm working on accruing miles on my Southwest credit card and making plans to travel more often this year and thinking big thoughts about what I'd like the next chapter of my life to look like. 


And truly, Eric and I are happy in this season. It's taking some getting used to not having all the crazy around all the time. But it's really good. We are delighted for all of their success. And grateful for the quiet days. 


As far as my Dinner Table Fantasy goes, I had them all with me right after the photo shoot. We went to our favorite Cuban restaurant (of course) and it was all super noisy and delicious and there was lots of laughter and smiles.


And I thought to myself, "I really am the luckiest."

Cuban Heritage Day - Ticket Winner

As I'm writing this, I have "Take me out to the ballgame" playing in a loop in my head. I am anticipating the excitement of arriving at Chavez Ravine for the big day on Sunday.

From last year, I remember the awesome pre-game Viva Los Doyers party with the Charanga Cubana playing classic Cuban music. I loved being surrounded by all my Cuban people as they came to enjoy the music, the game, and especially the "Cubania." 


I can't wait to find our seats inside Dodger Stadium. I love looking around and seeing a sea of Dodger blue shirts. I'm so excited that one lucky MBFCF reader will join me and my family and all the rest of the Cubanity on Sunday, August 17th to cheer on our boys in blue (and expecially our home boy, Yasiel Puig.)

Congratulations to Daniel Swaby! He won this fantastic Dodger Gift Pack and the tickets.


Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 9.15.55 AM

I will need your shipping address ASAP so I can get those tickets and all the Dodger Goodies delivered to your door before Sunday. Please shoot me an email immediately with HEY, MARTA! I WON STUFF ON YOUR BLOG! in the subject line. 

I look forward to meeting you and having you join us for the Best Cuban Baseball Party this year! 

"It's time for Dodgers baseball!" 

The Best of MBFCF in 2013

I'm looking at my calendar and it's already the 8th day of 2014. I was planning on taking a few days off at the beginning of the year and wow, did they go by quickly!

Come to think of it, 2013 feels like it went by pretty quickly also. Is it just me, or is this one of those things people tend to repeat a lot as they get old? Shut up. Don't even say it!

This past year has been quite eventful in lots of ways, which makes me happy that I blog (and scrapbook) because I would otherwise forget the thoughts and events and conversations I've had this past year. I know. There's that getting old thing again. Stop it.

Here are the top posts for each month of 2013. (Time is seriously flying, isn't it?)

Drum roll, please.

1.The Things I Didn't Blog About in 2012 - Luza - in which I confess my growing discomfort with my mom aging and how our roles are shifting.

Lucy and luza

2. #LookAtMyFood in which I continue to overshare what exactly I had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner via Instagram. (Also, if you don't already, you should follow me. I'm Smrtqbn.) I'm really very good about sharing my food.

Cuban food

3. Cuban Word of the Day - in which I share my delight at being honored by the wonderful artists from Wassup En LA? in their Cuban Word of the Day segment. (Technically it was 3 words - Pastelitos de Guayaba - but that's not important right now.)

Martas pastelitos

4. 99 Red Balloons in which I share how we celebrated my mom, Luza's 99th birthday. Cute video attached to that post, too.


5. Ahora Sí! in which I tell about the night I finally got to meet Andy Garcia. (I know. I still can't believe it. Pinch me!)

Andy garcia

6. Hello, Outdoor Movie Nights - in which I list all the great movies we have to choose from for our Summer Backyard Movie Theater. Also, it always marks the official beginning to our summer. And this pleases me greatly.

Movie list

7. "If you build it..." - in which I celebrate the wonderful farmhouse table that my kids built for me.

Lucy on table

8. Hurry up...and wait - in which I tell the story of Jonathan's first acting job in a feature film. (Now that I told you, I'll probably have to kill you.)

Jon on the set

9. We Visited Coffee Heaven and Lived to Tell the Tale - in which I describe (in great over-sharingly detailed detail) our wonderful visit to the Gaviña Coffee plant.

Eric and marta coffee tour

10. My Big, Fat, FROZEN, Cuban family - in which I gush (yes, there's gushing) about my day at the Walt Disney Animation Studios and the making of the animated feature, FROZEN. Also, the Disney Animators made me a personal video which totally put me over the edge.

Marta Frozen

11. ALL the Picadillo at the Blurb Books Food Fair in which I share about my visit to San Francisco and how I got to cook for lots of hungry book buyers. Also, there's a very cool video they did about me and my picadillo.

Marta cooking picadillo

12. Cuban Picadillo Pies® - in which I developed a new and fun way to eat and share picadillo. (<--also, what a weird descriptive sentence that was!)

Picadillo pies

Thanks to all of you who have been faithfully following MBFCF for all these years or who have just found me in the last year. I write this blog mostly for myself, so it genuinely pleases me when you respond so generously to my over-sharing.

Also, did the year just fly by for you, too? (I know. Old. Shut up.)

Happy New Year, my friends!

ALL the Picadillo at the Blurb Books Food Fair

I am a Cuban mother. And I cook. I love that I get asked to cook at different foodie-type events. See here. I always love doing those.

But the real story is that I basically like to eat Cuban food, so I cook it. And I have a family to feed, so they appreciate that I cook. Also, I really enjoy oversharing, hence this whole blog thing. So, in a nutshell, I cook Cuban and I share my food and I write about making and sharing Cuban food.

I know that not everyone wants to print out every single recipe I have (and, believe me, it's all really good), so I've collected my favorite recipes along with the stories that go with them into a you-can-actually-hold-it-in-your-hand cookbook.

Mbfcf cookbook

I self-published my first collection of recipes and called it My Big, Fat, Cuban Family Cookbook through Blurb Books. I have made other personal books with Blurb and the quality is always wonderful. Publishing with them was a fabulous experience. I highly recommend them. Also, you should totally get my cookbook!

Last month, Blurb hosted a group of us foodie/cookbook/bookmakers for the Blurb Book Bash in San Francisco.

Blurb Book Fair

When I arrived at the Blurb offices I met the photo and video crew who would be filming me all day and can I just tell you that I fell in love immediately. Plus, they totally made me feel comfortable in front of the camera. I felt like I was just telling my story to friends.

Me and my cookbook

Let me give a shout out right here to the fabulously talented folks at TR Proz for the gorgeous photos and video. You made me look so legit. (They also very kindly mentioned me on their blog. Thanks, guys!)

Marta in the kitchen

I cooked picadillo, people. Lots of it. Which meant lots of sofrito and lots of meat and lots of my favorite spices. Look at me go! I was a picadillo-cooking fool!

ON A SEMI-RELATED, BUT TANGENTAL SIDE NOTE: My eyes disappear when I smile or laugh. It has been like this my entire life. I still remember school photographers telling me to smile and then scolding me for closing my eyes. "No! They're open! I promise you!" These guys just let me be me. I'm so grateful for that.

Marta in kitchen

Look at ALL the picadillo.

Marta's picadillo

This beautiful video will give you a feel for how much fabulous food and fun was to be had at the Blurb Book Bash. (Look for your favorite Cuban Food Blogger at about the 17 second mark.)

These talented folks followed me around all day with all kinds of cameras like I was "somebody." (It was kind of surreal and totally awesome all at once.) The other author/foodie/bookmaker people who were also featured were quite talented and I was humbled to be included in this amazing group.

Marta darby. jpg

They interviewed me. I like to talk anyway, but let me tell you that it's weird seeing yourself talking (so much!) on camera. And I knew that I talked with my hands, but wow! I didn't know I was so....what's the word? Expressive.

I explained how much I love my Cuban culture and how I've tried to pass that on to my kids via our music, our language and of course, our food. I shared how family and food have always been intertwined for me. I talked (and demonstrated) the beauty of a perfect sofrito.

I'll be completely honest here, I was nervous about how I would come across on video, but you know what? This is me. This is how I look and how I sound. (Also, I was having a really fantastic curly-girl hair day, but that's not important right now.)

So here's Marta Darby, Cuban Cook. Unplugged.

Of course, the video happens to catch my weirdest face for the still. *sigh* So, I'm not quite ready for the Food Network, but then....maybe they're not quite ready for me.

Leave a comment and tell me your thoughts. Be kind.

Also, here's the recipe for Papi's Favorite Picadillo.

Thanks again, Blurb Books and TR Proz for an absolutely wonderful time.

My 7 Favorite Blog Posts

Wrapping up my month-long Happy 7th Blogiversary Celebration and I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what I've managed to put up here for the past 7 years.

It's funny. I sit down to a blank page (so to speak) and I have some idea of what I'd like to write about. Usually, because I tend to be very visual, I start with a photo that I feel illustrates a story that I'd like to tell. Sometimes I have a story and I feel compelled to search for the photo to illustrate it. Either way, I must have the photo.

Many times when I sit down to write, I don't feel like I've got one creative thought left in my brain, but that's not important right now.

That's my process.

So, in honor of my Seven Years in the Blogosphere, here are 7 of my favorite stories posts from the MBFCF archives over these past seven years. I tried to take a random sampling so you get a good idea as to how my brain works. (You've been warned.)

1. ABC...easy as...1,2,3...

In 2006, I wrote about our Cuban superstition fascination with lucky and unlucky numbers.

Amy jon & adam


2. El Cocotaso - or how a blow to the head forever altered my identity

In 2007, I told the elaborate story of how I came to be called Marta.

Marta as a baby


3. Out of the Shadows

In 2008, I wrote about my kids and their baby shoes. Get tissues.

Shadow boxes


4. Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

In 2009, I got an email from a British TV producer who was interested in maybe having their cooking celebrity (rhymes with Ramie Toliver) visit a Cuban family in Southern California.

Jamie oliver


5. How Google Works - A very Cuban explanation

There was that time in 2010 that I got my mom (she was only 96 then) to explain how the internet search engines work and she became an overnight YouTube sensation. Get popcorn.

Screen Shot 2013-10-29 at 12.57.12 PM


6. Cooking With the Troops or Meet Team Cubanaso

In July of 2011, my family and I got the chance of a lifetime to feed 300 of our troops a big, fat, very, Cuban lunch. In cooperation with Babalú Blog and Dos Cubanos Pig Roasts in Texas.

Team Cubanaso


7. Everyone Should Have a Giant Chalkboard

Showing a little of my creative side with a step-by-step on how I do my party planning. Also, I have a giant chalkboard. And it makes me happy.

Lucy me and amy


Those are just a few of the highlights of my blogging life for the past 7 years. If you're interested in reading more, you can always peruse my Categories and Archives or check out my Cuban Recipes.

Or feel free to join the big, fat, Cuban relajo on Facebook.

You can also click on the link below if you'd like to follow me on Instagram. I'm Smrtqbn.


Thanks for reading my stories for all these years. I will seriously take up the challenge of entertaining you for at least 7 more.

Carne Con Papas Recipe

The Question

I work from my home, and I homeschool my kids, which means I field all kinds of questions from them all day long. And even though I love to cook and try out tons of recipes and nothing makes me happier than hungry mouths to fill, there is one particular question that always makes me feel pressured:

“What’s for dinner?”

(I hear it in a growling, distorted, horror-movie voice with scary harpsichord music playing.)

Even though I plan menus and usually know what I’m making, the question still paralyzes me.

It’s probably some latent test anxiety left over from high school. I somehow feel like I’m on the spot and I’d better get the answer right - or . . . DIE. (buahahahaha! Insert crashing thunder and lightning effects here.)

Enter my crockpot, which I (obviously) love. I love being able to fix something in the morning and forget about it all day. It gives me a happy feeling of accomplishment. It's like having a Cuban grandmother in the house serving up the very best comfort food there is.

But here's the most compelling reason for my unnatural attachment to my crockpot: it preempts the dreaded question, because, they can peek in the pot early in the day and know what they can look forward to at dinnertime. Not only that, but the smell of whatever is happening in the kitchen starts wafting through the house and all I get is positives: “Dinner smells awesome.” "Whatever you made is going to be great!" "Should we set the table now?" (ok, that last one was really more of a fantasy. . =D)

I usually set the timer on the bread machine so that the smell of freshly baking bread coincides with dinnertime and the olfactory overload completely disorients them. They get so focused on what they are smelling, that all other senses become useless. It doesn’t even matter what I’m making any more, because the smells are making them salivate and sing my praises before they get to the table. Yes, I admit it’s manipulative. But it works.

Too bad this process doesn’t translate to the internet, because on Wednesdays I usually find an email in my inbox from Val wondering what I’m cooking for Babalú on Thursdays.

Can you guess the subject line?

My Big Fat Cuban Family - Carne con Papas Recipe

Carne con Papas Recipe

  • Olive oil (twice around the pan)
  • ½ small white onion, chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 2 tablespoons bijol
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 lbs. beef stew meat
  • 2 white potatoes (cut into small cubes)
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups beef boullion (6 cubes)

1) Make the boullion with 6 cubes and 4 cups water.

2) Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, green pepper and garlic until the onion is translucent.

3) Add cumin, salt, pepper, bijol, and bay leaves.

4) Add tomato sauce and cook for about a minute. Just to heat through.

5) Put the rest of the ingredients into the crockpot.

6) Cook on low setting for 6-8 hours.

NOTE: If you’re impatient and not intimidated by it, you can make this same thing in a pressure cooker.

Follow steps 1-4, but put in a pressure cooker instead of a crockpot.

Following manufacturer’s directions, cook under 15 pound pressure for about 45 minutes.

Cubamerican at the Tower Theater, Miami - Ticket Giveaway

As you know, I love to promote projects by and for Cubans. In the month of September, I usually showcase the stories of Cuban exiles in my blog series, Cuando Sali de Cuba.

Our shared history is so compelling and our contributions and accomplishments are many and varied. The film, Cubamerican beautifully and artfully showcases the stories of many prominent Cubans. Their stories, like all of ours are filled with both unbearable sadness and unquenchable hope.

I had the privilege of seeing the film in a rough version last summer and I was blown away. This is a must-see, not just for Cubans, but for all lovers of liberty.

Cubamerican the movie


Here's an interview with José Enrique Pardo – Writer/Producer/ Director

Q: What spurred you to make this film?

A: My father’s death.  After he passed away I felt like my connection to Cuba had died with him and I wanted to commemorate his experience and mine.  I also wanted to provide a portal for my children and their children to remember the lives of their Cuban ancestors.  As it turned out, making the film revived my Cubania.  It was my father’s last gift to me.

Q: Of all the stories chronicled in Cubamerican which one is the most powerful to you?

A: All the stories are powerful, and though they share similarities they are all unique.  Anytime one is forced into exile from one’s homeland, it is a tragedy.  However, for me the stories of those characters who lost their parents and their families, who were never able to reunite with them, are the most compelling; they have an almost unbearable sadness.

Q: What would you like to see happen in Cuba?

A: The existence of a pluralistic democracy with free elections, which incorporates the philosophy of the American Declaration of Independence.  Namely, that we are all created equal and are endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  That government is necessary to secure those rights and derive their power from the consent of the citizenry not the military or a dictatorship.  And that whenever any government  abolishes or infringes upon those rights, as the Cuban government has done for so long, it is the right of the people to institute a new government that can effect their safety and happiness.  None of this exists in Cuba today.

Q: What is the purpose of your film?

A: I hope that the purpose of my film is to bring all Cubans closer together.  To show that hatred, force, and repression is evil and a curse on humanity and that it is forgiveness and compassion that bring us closer to the divine.

Q: What place do you think your film will occupy in Cuban history?

A: I don’t know if it will occupy a place in Cuban history I think it will occupy a place in Cuban-American history.   My film presents Cuban history as background and explanation for the Cuban-American condition but it does not dwell on Cuba.  More than anything else, my film shows the resiliency of the human spirit embodied in the characters of the film and the million more like them that risked everything for freedom and ultimately triumphed because of it. 

Cubamerican will be showing beginning Friday, June 14th in Miami at The Tower Theater • 1508 Southwest 8th Street, Miami, Fl.

They have graciously offered to give away 4 sets of 2 tickets to the Friday, June 14th showing of the film to MBFCF readers. Of course, this is available only to my South Florida friends. (Don't hate.)

In order to enter the Cubamerican Ticket Giveaway, please leave a comment here on this blog and answer the following questions:

  • What year did your family come to the U.S?
  • What part of Cuba are you from?

Please go "like" the Cubamerican La Pelicula Facebook page for an extra entry and come back and leave another comment saying, "I like Cubamerican."

I'll choose the winners on Wednesday, June 12th, 2013 at 11:00 AM PST.

About the Director:

José Enrique Pardo was born in Havana, Cuba, raised in Union City, New Jersey, and now resides in Los Angeles, California. He has written three novels (Dealing from Heaven, Leverage, Hurricanes) a collection of stories (Poised Upon the Precipice) and three screenplays (Persuasion, God’s Law and Feelanthropy).  José Enrique has previously produced and directed two short films (Proposition, Birthday Boy}.  Cubamerican is his first feature film.

Family Dinners

I probably shouldn't make such a big deal about it, but I do. Family Dinners are super important to me.

It has nothing to do with surveys or statistics. Although statistics are on the side of regular family dinners for keeping families connected and eating well.

Family Dinners are kind of sacred around here.

Darby family dinner

Confession: I don't always cook Cuban. But I do cook a lot. And there are always vegetables and salads and lots of variety in the main dishes, although we're mostly unapologetic carnivores.

Darby family dinner 2

My rules are that 1) dinner must be delicious and 2) phones must be off. The exception to the turning-off-phone rule is that you may take photos of your food, and you may even Instagram it, which everyone knows is why God gave us smart phones.

I know the Family Dinner thing is hopelessly old-fashioned. But as everyone has gotten busier, it seems to be the only place where we consistently connect and share as a family. I miss not having my older kids here as much, as they've gotten on with their busy lives. But when they are here we make it a point to have a feast.

In the interest of full disclosure, we also order pizza and take out Chinese food. But even then, we sit at our places and slow down enough to spend time together. Did I tell you that everyone has their own place at the table? (I know. Shut up.)

Ironically, yesterday, as I was working on this post, I had a terrible fibro episode. I did not even make dinner and every man was on his own. Those times make me glad that we have so many everybody-sit-down-together type meals. The free-for-all is much more the exception, rather than the rule.

Darby family dinner 3

I think the need to feed people and have them around the table comes from my happiest memories of my Cuban childhood. The Family Table was sacred. There was always lively conversation and delicious food. I wish we had more moments like this in our lives. This is why I've become so intentional in making Dinner Time so important.

In the Movie of My Life, most of the scenes and family exchanges will take place around the dinner table. In that silver-screen-fantasy there will also be someone else who cleans up after the meal, but that's not important right now.

When I see the faces of the ones I love best as they laugh and share and we listen to the stories about who said what and how their days went, there's no question that this is a good and solid tradition.

The only question left is: "What's for dessert?"

Bee-ing Ourselves

Spring weather here in Southern California is like no other. The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is open all the windows and doors and let the fresh air in.

This is how the trouble started...

I left the slider in our bedroom open the other morning, and a bee got in the house.

I didn't know that that's what had happened. I just heard Lucy's screams coming from the upstairs bathroom. Jonathan quickly reacted by bolting up there to defend her from whatever impending doom was about to befall her. I lazily called up the stairs, "Are you okay?" (That was so lame. I know. Shut up. If it had been a serious emergency I would have moved much more quickly, but that's not important right now.)

Jonathan came back down in a few minutes with a smug look on his face. "Catastrophe averted," he declared.

And then I forgot about the yelling and the averted catastrophe and I got distracted by whatever it was that I was doing and just got on with my day.

It was much later when I went upstairs to take a shower that I came across this:

Spider post it

Apparently, he had just trapped the Bee Invader between the screen and the bathroom window. He left this post-it up there to let us know not to open the bathroom window until the Flying Trespasser had given up the ghost.

We didn't move the post-it or open the window for a couple of days. Look how obeedient we were!

We just waited until it became a zombee.

(I guess you had to be there.)

It Won't Be A Surprise Party...

I had my mom, Luza, with me over the weekend. Our major activity was making plans for her upcoming birthday next month.

We will be celebrating her 99 years on earth.

Me: "What would you like to do for your birthday?"

Luza: "I would like a party."

Me: "Of course."

She stops for a moment, thinking.

"Can I have balloons?"


I'm thinking 99 red ones. Your thoughts?