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? 

The Things He's Taught Me

It's my husband, Eric's birthday today.

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but he's one of those people who is a natural-born teacher. He's a Search Marketing Guy in his real life, but I can confidently say that teaching is his real gift. (NOTE: Search Marketing is geek-speak for the guy who gets you on the first page of Google. Eric taught me that. See what I mean?)

Technically, he's also taught me a lot about search marketing stuff, too, but that's not important right now.

Eric at Google

1. He taught me how to fight. 

I'm pretty much of the your-nose-is-too-big school of marital sparring. I never knew how to fight to get to the issue. Eric has taught me that the issue is never the issue. Okay, so it makes me a bit crazed when I want to argue about the correct way to squeeze a toothpaste tube, and he kindly points out that perhaps it's the unheaval I'm currently experiencing that is causing me to fixate on the damn toothpaste. I may or may not have conceded his point and maybe cried about the actual issue. Point: Eric.

2. He taught me that 'Acts of Service' is a legitimate love language.

It's not my primary love language, but it's the way he expresses his love to me at times. He cleans things and clears things and paints things and makes sure my car has gas, but what he's really saying is "I love you." Much like sweet Wesley in The Princess Bride saying "As you wish" to Buttercup. I know that I am loved because my husband knows how to demonstrate that love. Amen. 

3. He taught me to risk. 

I tend to be the one to stuff my emotion and want to "handle" whatever challenge is headed my way without asking for help. It feels too risky for me to invite someone into my discomfort and insecurity. It turns out he finds me much more attractive when I risk including him in my fearful emotions. I see him risking continually as he forges ahead through his days and in his career. He's a risk-taker. Many times he's afraid, but he just takes the fear with him. I appreciate that.

4. He taught me how to cry.

I would pretty much rather give birth to a porcupine on fire than cry in front of another human. Eric is very much an empath and is astute when it comes to catching the signals that I need a good cry to clear out my emotions. "Just let it go," he says. Not that simple for me, A World Class Stuffer. Still, I appreciate that he's not afraid of my tears. The reason he's so good at this is that he is very much in touch with his own emotions. 

5. He taught me about partnership.

We are a great team. We are consistent co-parents. We are wonderful co-workers. We fill in each other's areas of weakness.  It's nice to have someone on my team who's got my back. We share the load of running the household and we're mostly always on the same page. We're definitely "in this together." 

6. He taught me how to celebrate.

Which is what we're doing today. On this day, Eric Darby is celebrating his birthday. We are celebrating the gift that he is to all of us.  The kids and I will bring the presents and cake. Eric will be the one to say, "Let's get this party started!" (He's also taught me how to appreciate 80's music, but that's a story for another day...)

Thank you, Honey. You've taught us all so much. As we celebrate your birthday, we're grateful that you so easily function in your Teaching Gift. We remain your very satisfied and faithful students.


Happy Birthday! 

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.

The Birthday Adventure

Lucy's been in Hollywood for the past month. She's doing an Improv Intensive at Improv Olympics West and has been living up there during the week and coming home (briefly!) to do laundry, regroup for a day before she goes back on Sunday afternoon to prepare for the next week.

Yesterday, (Sunday) was her twentieth birthday. (I know. It seems impossible to me, too.) We were a little stuck trying to figure out how to carve time to celebrate. 

Lucy's birthday

So, last week, my friend, Jana and I decided to drive up to visit Lucy mid-week to celebrate her birthday. We took her to dinner at an impossibly trendy place in the LA Arts District. (That just sounds über-trendy, doesn't it?)

But wait. Let me tell you about the LA Arts District.

It's located in what appears to be an abandoned industrial area. Lots of warehouses and chainlink fence and graffiti. Jana had found the restaurant featured on the Design Love Fest Blog and we decided it looked to be worth our time.

It's just that the "neighborhood" (I use that term in the loosest way possible) looked a little, well, "urban." (I am trying to be kind here, therefore the use of the many quotation marks, because really, the more fittingly descriptive word is "sketchy.") Maybe it just depends on the way you drive in?

Lucy & graffiti

But we were on An Adventure.

Eat Drink Americano

Eat Drink Americano • 923 E 3rd St #101  Los Angeles, CA 90012 • (213) 620-0781

Amid the windowless warehouses and empty lots, there were lots of beautiful cars and barely enough parking. We figured that was a really good sign. This, we concluded was one of LA's best kept secrets.

Through the window
I took this photo looking from the outside in to the restaurant. Notice the graffiti-tagged decorative building behind me.

Once inside, the atmosphere, was lovely. Welcoming, relaxed, artistic, but with a bit of an urban edge to it.

Eat drink americano

The beautiful hand-lettered wall seriously took our breath away. (You know I'm a sucker for giant chalkboards, right?)

Americano wall

The food was a little different, definitely delicious and (to my utter delight) served on carving boards. *makes note to self to collect carving boards for her next dinner party*

Americano collage

The service was fantastic. I have nothing but praise for Eat Drink Americano. We will definitely return. With friends. (Just to watch the look on their faces as we make our way to the entrance of the restaurant and take in the "local decor," but that's not important right now.)

Lucy jana & me

They brought my birthday girl homemade peanut butter and dulce de leche ice cream (they saved her the last scoop!) and their "Pull Me Up" - A trifle of coffee and amaretto soaked lady fingers topped with custard and chocolate ganache. (Yes. It was as amazing as it sounds.)

They put a candle in the tiramisu-like confection. And we sang, "Happy Birthday." I may or may not have wiped away a tear or two for the joy of the perfection of the moment.

Lucy's birthday

My girl is 20 years old. She's already experiencing so many new adventures in her life.

I'm just grateful she lets me come along once in a while. Even if I don't quite "get it."

This Guy.

Every year when birthdays come along, I pause and reflect. My own birthday doesn't bother me much, but the birthdays of my kids make me physically feel the rotation of the earth. It moves so crazy-fast!

My son, Adam, is 27 years old today.

Adam & me

I suppose I could tell you about all the great ways he's grown into the man he is today. (And he has.)

Adam 2

But, honestly, as his mom, the first thing that comes to mind is how he can still shoot me that "surely you can't stay mad at me" look. And it works. Just like it did when he was a little guy.

Adam 1

He still has the ability to make me laugh when he says, "Hi, mom!" It's just the way he says it that hasn't changed in all these years. He might as well be 10 years old and jumping into the car when I picked him up from school.


I can still predict many times how he will react to something, or exactly what he will say.  I can tell by the sound of his voice if he is happy, or in pain. Because I've been listening (really listening) to those inflections in his voice for the past 27 years.

As much as I love the many wonderful qualities this guy has developed as he's grown up, it's the little ways that he's remained the same that make this mother's heart melt. I love so much that he and I have forged a real relationship that's been tried by fire and survived.

I appreciate his tenacity, his sense of humor, his tender heart. Ironically, those are the very same things that I appreciated about six year old Adam.

Happy Birthday, my son.


Live long, and prosper.

Adam h

And may God continue to bless you this day and every day.

“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.” ~Irish proverb

21 Things I Know For Sure (with 37 years of experience)

Today I mark the 58th time the earth has gone around the sun with me on this planet. All that to say this: today's my birthday. My 58th birthday.

Marta Darby

It seems I should have, at this point in my life, acquired some wisdom to share. Or I could just write down some random thoughts...

21 Things I Know For Sure About Myself:

  1. People always respond best when I'm authentic.
  2. I'm much better, smarter, funnier than my inner critic gives me credit for. (I wish she would just SHUT UP sometimes, but that's not important right now.)
  3. I will never really enjoy broccoli, no matter how much cheese sauce is on it.
  4. A fresh mani/pedi always makes me feel good.
  5. No matter what I achieve in life, I'm a thousand times more proud of my kids' accomplishments.
  6. Marrying well was the smartest thing I've ever done. (I love you, Eric Darby.)
  7. I must have coffee. Every. Day.
  8. I don't feel completely dressed unless I am wearing jewelry and lipstick. (Is that a Cuban thing?)
  9. I'm fiercely proud of my Cuban heritage and my big, fat, Cuban family.
  10. I appreciate my friends immensely.
  11. The smell of sofrito (sauteed onions, bell pepper, and garlic) is the most welcoming smell there is.
  12. If it's in my power to do something for you, I will.
  13. I take pictures every day.
  14. I cry at the same parts of the same movies every time. ("I'll take the ring to Mordor. Though I do not know the way..." ~Frodo Baggins)
  15. I am always reading 3 or 4 books at a time.
  16. It's hard for me to keep quiet sometimes. (Okay. A lot of the time. Shut up.)
  17. When I look at young people, I try to imagine what they'll be like when they're old.
  18. When I look at old people, I try to imagine them when they were young.
  19. I'm super analytical.
  20. I live by the following mantra: Food must be delicious.
  21. I love social media & technology. I'm glad to be living in this age.

All those things are true about me and I suppose I could write another 37 to get up to 58. But I'm kind of lazy sometimes. Ooops. I guess that one didn't make the list...

This guy.

I measure the passing of time and events by the ages of my kids. Maybe most mothers do that.

I remember where I was and what year it was because what I remember is that "Amy was still in high school." Or "Adam had already moved away." Sometimes it's "that's when Lucy cut her hair short."

The end of the year and the coming New Year is always bittersweet for me. Jonathan was born on December 30th. And it's always his birthday that makes me feel that time is not so much marching on as it is screaming by.

Still, I'm delighted every day by what a remarkable human being my youngest is becoming. (I would call him my "baby," but that phrase is completely unacceptable and doesn't at all fit him any longer.)

Jonathan is 17 today.

Jonathan is 17

I need to get a slower calendar.

Happy Birthday, my son.

Just Jon

I was hoping to have something profound to say about my youngest son, Jonathan turning 16 today. I wanted to compare and contrast the kid he was,

Jonathan 8

to the man he's become.


I wanted to write about what a decent person he's grown up to be. I wanted to tell you about the many qualities that he's developed that make him a great guy. I'm trying to take a step back and take myself out of the equation and assess him as objectively as possible (although I'd love to take credit for how awesome he turned out, but that's not important right now).

As I observe my youngest today on his 16th birthday, here's what I know for sure:

  1. Jonathan is his own person. 
  2. He is a wonderful friend.
  3. He has a caring heart.
  4. He's got a highly developed sense of humor.
  5. He is thoughtful.
  6. He is tough.
  7. He is talented.
  8. And humble.
  9. He's a natural born leader.
  10. He's comfortable in his own skin.
  11. Jonathan is the kind of guy that friends call when they need something.
  12. He is respected by his peers and by the adults in his life.
  13. He is compassionate.
  14. He is sensitive.
  15. He is smart.
  16. He has big thoughts.

When you meet Jonathan and get to know him, you will eventually detect all those qualities, but like everyone else in his life, you will say, "That's just Jon."

And that's the highest compliment of all. 

Happy birthday, my son. I love you MORE.


(NOTE: The photo of Jon today was taken by his talented photographer friend, Chase Miller.)

Marta's Birthday Month®

I know.

Everyone else celebrates their birthDAY. And some clever folks even celebrate Birthday Week, which I did, too, until I said to myself, "Self, we should try to see if we can drag out this birthday celebration stuff for the entire month of May."

No, I don't really talk to myself that way....or maybe I do, but that's not important right now. ;-)

And so I scheduled coffee with friends and mani-pedis and saw movies and went to fun places and ate fabulous meals. And I celebrated. And celebrated. And it all made me happy.

So here's a recap of the fun stuff I got to do in the month of May, which will henceforth be known as Marta's Birthday Month®.

For starters, I got to bake in the Nestlé Kitchens in Glendale. I know. Shut up. I was beside myself with excitement. (More of that story plus a generous giveaway from Nestlé coming up later this week.)


Lucy and I went up to Universal City Walk and had dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Buca di Beppo.


Then we got to attend a preview-screening of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides. (Thanks, Disney Pictures!)


We saw it in IMAX 3D. Here we are looking appropriately nerdy in our 3D glasses. (Totally enjoyed the movie, by the way. And this is now the 2nd photo of me in 3D glasses that I've posted on my blog. Is this going to be a trend?)

3d glasses

And we just happened to be in L.A. on the Clearest, Most Beautiful Day Ever. (Incidentally, that's the Warner Brothers studio lot in the foreground. Do you recognize it from the beginning of WB films? Note to self: Take the WB Studio Tour one day very soon.)

Beautiful LA day

All that piratey fun happened on the night of the full moon. (Which was sooo amazing and here I was trying desperately to capture the magicalness of the moment with my iPhone 4G, which I love, but which couldn't quite do the Magical Scene justice, but that's not important right now, either.)

Full moon

Sometime this month I also made my famous Arroz con Pollo, which happens to be my favorite Cuban food on earth. (At least, when I make it.)

Arroz con pollo

And we went out to breakfast a few times. Breakfast, by the way, is my favorite meal to eat out.


My beautiful and talented friend, Tamera took me out for coffee and let me choose a bracelet from her awesome new jewelry collection. She has finally started blogging and sharing her awesomeness with the world. (Yay!)

You can find her online at Tamera Go visit her blog and be prepared to be totally inspired by her incredible creativity.

Bracelet by Tamera

Close up of the bracelet. It says: Live out loud. Yes, that's my plan. Thanks again, Tamera!


As if things just couldn't get more festive, my gladiolus finally bloomed.


And so did my Stairway to Heaven. Jonathan is 6'2". The bush tree is about 15 feet tall and blooming prolifically, which just makes me fall in love with it every single day.

Rose tree

We celebrated my (actual!) birthday with dinner with close friends.

With girls

And my BFF, Pam sent me this gorgeous necklace from Lisa Leonard Designs that I may or may not have been secretly coveting. (Love you MORE!)

From pam

And her granddaughter, CJ made me this cute video:
"The birds are angry because it's your birthday and not theirs." Isn't she adorable?

We enjoyed another breakfast (did I mention it's my favorite meal to eat out?) out in the canyon close to us. Seriously excellent home cooked meals. Particularly breakfast. =D

Silverado cafe

Eric and the kids chose these beautiful climbers for the arch in my white picket fence. (Note: we have been looking for and not having any luck with finding a hardy climber to do what I want it to do, but that's not important right now, either.)

It's called Piñata. Isn't that apropos for a birthdaymonth gift?

Pinata roses

My friend, Wanda got me these gorgeously intricate measuring spoons. I promptly announced that I would hang them in my kitchen, to which she replied that I must actually use them. Often.

I kind of have to work through that concept of actually using cool things in my real life. (Anyone else struggle with this? No? Never mind...)

Measuring spoons

Of course I got a pedicure. That goes without saying.


Plus I got lots of Birthday Love on Facebook. (If you don't already, please feel free to "like" My Big, Fat, Cuban Family on Facebook.)

All in all, Marta's Birthday Month® (Wait! Is that an oxymoron?) was a huge success.

I feel very loved and very cherished.

And I've managed to celebrate my fifty-six years in epic form.

Me & e

Did I mention I lead a charmed life? ;-)


As you know, my mom, Luza, is 97 years old. She has four siblings who are all in their 90's, except for one...

Her big brother just celebrated his 100th birthday in Miami this past weekend.

Fernando 100

Tio Fernando is one hundred years old. (I know. Shut up!)

I don't know what genetic material these people are made of, I just hope I have a tenth of their energy when (if!) I get to be their age.

Those amazing coke-bottle glasses inspired us to give him the nickname, Magoo. =D

"Ah, Magoo! You've done it again!"

Felicidades, Tio Fernando! Que Dios te bendiga!