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? 

My Mom is 101

I keep repeating it to myself and to anyone who will listen.

"My mom is one-hundred-and-one." 

It's not the number of years that strikes me as odd. It's the amount of life still left in her at 101.

"My mom is one-hundred-and-one."

I try to explain to people what she is like. What it's like to have a 101 year old mother. But it doesn't quite translate. Because my mom is A Character.

She still (at 101!) has a great sense of humor. 

The following photos were taken at my house on Nochebuena, just two short months ago. I wanted to make sure I had photos of my mom with all of her grandchildren. Because posterity.

I tried to get them to pose portraity-style. Because their grandmother is 101, after all.

But it's Luza. 

Luza and girls 7

"Make the ooh face, Abuela."

Luza and girls 8

No portraits for her. *sigh*

Luza and kids 2

And they love her for it.

Luza and girls 3

She's 101, people. (Maybe if I keep repeating it, it will sink it.)

Luza and girls 5

She certainly doesn't act her age. But I don't know if that's right, because I don't know anyone else who's 101.

Luza and girls 4

But I suspect that the secret to her longevity is held in these pictures of her with the ones she loves most. The not-portraity, make-this-face, smile-don't-smile, wear-this-hat photos.

Luza and girls 2 

She's one-hundred-and-one.

Luza and girls 6

And refuses to grow up.

Luza and kids 1

"My mom is one-hundred-and-one."

And she genuinely knows how to squeeze every ounce of fun out of life.

What a gift.

Luza is 101

Felicidades, Mami. Que Dios te bendiga.

Missing the Mess

I was having a conversation with my mom (Luza, who, by the way, is 100 years old) and I was telling her how weird it was to only have 1 of my kids left at home. 

Technically, even Jonathan is not here, because he's gone most of the time with school and auditions and driving to LA and rehearsals for the play he's in. So I find myself rethinking making meals. I'm so used to cooking for a crowd and now it's just me and Eric.     

Which is awesome. And completely weird to me.

So I am telling this to Luza and she suddenly she asks, "Is your kitchen clean?" Which at first I thought was an issue with her synapses mis-firing again because that seems to happen more often lately. She's 100, after all. I thought she was changing the subject.


"Yes, as a matter of fact, it is."

Which, now that she was mentioning it, I realized was pretty unusual for my house. There are always dirty dishes and leftover-from-last-night's-party cups and serving dishes that I was too lazy to wash out yesterday. And glasses with some sort of liquid in them on every available surface in the kitchen and dining room and living room. (Shut up. Don't judge.)

But here was my kitchen, with everything in its place and the counters wiped off. Hmmm.


Or mostly clean. But still...

Then she dropped this nugget on me:

"You spend years cleaning and straightening and discouraged that no matter how hard you work it doesn't seem to last for more than a day. Then suddenly you surmise that everything seems to stay neat and straightened and clean and you find yourself missing the mess."

My mom has lived 100 years. She has a lot of life experience. I guess I shouldn't be surprised when she has these amazing moments of lucidity.

"Go ahead and grieve. It's not the mess you miss, it's the messy people."

And so, here I sit, in my pretty-clean-for-a-Monday house, letting the tears fall. I think it's just part of that whole pesky empty-nest thing happening and I just need to embrace it.

Just when I think I need to soldier on through this alone, I get a text from Amy in Miami:


It turns out that the Messy People miss me, too. Who knew?

As an added bonus, it's also pretty nice to have a clean kitchen.

The Secret of Long Life

As many of you know, yesterday we celebrated my mom, Luza's 100th birthday. Thank you all for the wonderful birthday wishes. I printed them all out and they're going in her newest scrapbook, but that's not important right now.

When you reach a certain age, in this case, 100 years, people often ask, "So, what's your secret?"

The question they're really asking, I think, is, "What did you do to get here?"

I can't answer that for other people, but I can tell you that the secret to my mom's long and healthy life are not the things she did, but the things she did not do.

100 pinata

1. She never worked outside of her home.

My dad was always the breadwinner. She went from her parents' home to becoming his bride. She was exclusively a wife and mother and eventually, a grandmother. My siblings and I continue to take care of her.

2. She never drove a car.

My dad, and as we got our drivers licenses, all of us drove her wherever she wanted or needed to go.

3. She was never bitter about the past.

Her life changed radically and completely when we came here to the U.S. She lost the only country and language she had ever known. She never saw her mother again. She left her home and wealth to start over in this new country with a family of 6 kids. She was 47 years old.

4. She did not stop reading.

She still reads voraciously and has two or three novels going at once. She also enjoys the occasional self-help book. Go figure.

5. She didn't lose her faith.

Communism took over our island home and with it, came the destruction of the church. She continues to read her bible every single day. The readings go like this - 1 chapter New Testament, 1 chapter Old Testament, 1 Psalm, 1 Proverbs. On this schedule, she reads her bible cover to cover every year. And it shows.

Luza's bible

6. She has never stopped learning.

Because she's such a voracious reader, she likes to clip articles from magazines and newspapers (in Spanish, of course). She likes to learn fun facts about the nations competing in the Olympics. She collects inspirational quotes. She can have an intelligent conversation about what's happening in the world and politics. She has voted in every U.S. election since she became an American citizen.

7. She won't stop making plans.

Of course, it's been years since she has been able to work on any projects herself, but that hasn't stopped her from clipping decorating ideas from magazines, or making plans to add flowers to her garden. Even when I'm the one hosting the party, she will always offer an idea that she has found. Also, she keeps scrapbooks. She has dozens of them full of the things that she finds cute, or useful, or memorable. She works diligently on these all the time.

8. She doesn't worry about her phone bill.

She is still in touch with her siblings in Cuba and our first next door neighbor when we first arrived in the U.S. She calls many of her old friends (some that she knew from summers in the late 50's from Varadero Beach) regularly.

9. She didn't stop taking care of herself.

She still regularly colors her hair, goes to the beauty parlor, paints her nails, wears perfume, and of course, wears lipstick. Even if no one is visiting that day and even if she's not going anywhere, she gets dressed and grooms herself every day.

10. She never despaired.

She had to start her life over in mid-life, and true to the Cuban character, she made jokes about it. She raised a family in a new and foreign culture. She was always of the "Where There's Life, There's Hope" camp and that's how she has lived her life.

My indomitable mother is 100 years old young. Maybe it's time to make my own not-to-do list.

Cuco and Yayo

My mom, Luza, is 99 (and a half) years old.

Luza and me

That's me & Luza. She's 99 in this photo.

She's always been a very curious person and to this day, she loves learning. So a few years ago she was asking about how the internet search engines work. I tried explaining it in the simplest terms.

What was awesome is that I then heard her regurgitate this information on the phone to her older brother. This happened a few years ago. I asked her to please tell me again what she had told him.

The resulting explanation about Cuco (Google) and Yayo (Yahoo) will go down in Youtube history.

Get popcorn.


Also, if you have not yet subscribed to my Youtube channel. You totally should.

Here's the link:

Marta Darby (Smrtqbn) on Youtube.

Where in the world is Marta today?

I realize I haven't been posting as often as I like and I apologize, but that doesn't mean I'm not around. In fact, I seem to be all over the web today. I'm guest posting in a couple of places:

I have an essay about Mother's Day over at the Tiki Tiki. I tell you a lot about Luza. It's titled "My Mother. My Inspiration."  Or as I like to call it: Not your typical Mother's Day tribute. (But that's not important right now.) Click on over and leave some comment love. I think you'll enjoy it.

Luza and me

I also have a homeschooling article about how I taught both my boys to read over at Mommy Maestra. It's called "Tintin and the Reluctant Reader." Please click on the link if you're interested (or at least curious).

J today

Thanks for your patience. I'll be back in my own neighborhood very soon. And have I got stuff to tell you!


The Bible - the Original Novela

As you know, my mom is 97.

I always feel compelled to tell her age when I'm writing about her because:

  1. It makes the story I'm about to tell that much more amazing.
  2. Nobody makes 97 year olds anymore like the one that happens to be my mother. ;-)

Luza (my 97 year old mom - See? I did it again) is constantly reading. She always has a book or two or three that she's involved with.

She religiously writes in her journal each day so she can remember who visited her and who called and who brought her gifts or helped her with something.

She also reads the Bible every day and tries to memorize scriptures (in Spanish, of course) and takes notes about what she's reading. Her reading schedule makes it so that she will read the entire Bible in one year.This is why I feel like I have to explain that she's 97. Who does this at her age?

So, the other morning she was writing in her journal and making notes about her Bible reading. Sometimes she "marries" the two: journal and Bible notes. 

I'd like to point out right now, in case you missed it that she is 97 and reads without glasses. See what I mean?

Luza reading

My daughter, Amy Kikita had just made her an early morning cafecito, which she enjoyed so much that she logged it into her journal along with her Bible notes.

This was her journal entry for the day:

"Kikita me dio un café muy rico a las 7:15 de la mañana. Saúl quiere matar a David."

Translation: "Kikita made me a very delicious café at 7:15 this morning. Saul wants to kill David."

Bible Reference: 1 Samuel 26