For the Love of Tres Leches Cake

For the love of Tres Leches cake.

I wish I could remember my first very bite of Tres Leches cake. I can’t. But I remember my last bite of Tres Leches cake, and I look forward to the next one! If you’re not familiar with Tres Leches cake, you should be. It’s also referred to by some people as “milk cake,” because as the Spanish name suggests, it is made with three milks. It’s a sponge cake that is soaked in three kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk, and heavy cream. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. It’s popular in Latin America, and I have seen lots of different versions of it. I don’t know if it varies geographically, but I have seen it with cinnamon added to the top, with caramel added to the top, and sometimes, with fruit added. My favorite? Plain old Tres Leches…and give me a good cup of coffee to go with it.

Tres Leches cake is very popular in Mexico, Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico. If you can find authentic Cuban or Mexican restaurants in your area, you might be able to find Tres Leches cake there. I just got back from a trip to Miami for spring break, and while I was there, I had Tres Leches a couple of times at a couple of different restaurants. I definitely miss that part of Miami! Surprisingly, I have just discovered I can get Tres Leches cake in my local Publix grocery store here in Charlotte! Wanna know the real surprise? It is actually good…really, really good! OK, if you live near a Publix, you know they do almost everything well. I have never been disappointed when I have ordered from their deli or bakery. Why would I be surprised their Tres Leches cake is good?

Publix sells it in a little plastic clamshell container. I could hardly wait to get home with it. When I did, I I had to serve it to myself the way it has been served to me in in Cuban restaurants…I poured the milk mixture around it on the serving plate, just so it could soak up a little more milk.

The first time I ever had Tres Leches served with the milk actually puddled around it was at a Cuban restaurant in West Palm Beach earlier this year. My friend, Linda, has a place in Vero Beach, and when I told her I’d be driving through the West Palm area, she told me I absolutely had to stop at a restaurant on Old Dixie Highway called Havana. She said, “When you step inside, you’ll expect Ricky Ricardo to come walking from around the corner.” (If you’re offended by that, please stop following me. She meant it felt like an authentic Cuban experience.) I loved Desi Arnaz (apparently, a lot of women did), and I appreciate everything about Latin culture, so I was excited. I’ve written before about this restaurant, and I think I said then that the Tres Leches cake there is what dreams are made of. No joke. I might need to go back to West Palm just for that cake…puddled in sweetened condensed milk…and accompanied by a cup of cafe Cubano…that’s Cuban coffee. If you’ve never had that…it’s another experience…frothy azucar and crema (sugar and cream). It was the perfect accompaniment to the best Tres Leches cake I have ever had.

So with my Publix cake, I truly think I improved it by pouring the condensed milk around it. It made it feel more authentic to me, and it was delicious. I should also mention here that I don’t like cinnamon and caramel on my Tres Leches cake. When we were in Miami last week, I asked a Cuban gentleman about that, and he turned up his nose at it too. Apparently, he thinks cinnamon and caramel have no place in the Tres Leches world. We are on the same page. I was glad to know I wasn’t the only one who doesn’t like that added touch.

I’m sure there are places in Charlotte to find better Tres Leches cake. I just need to get out and search for them. (I’ve included the top five from Yelp in a list below at the bottom of this page.) Till then, I’ll stick with the Publix Tres Leches, and I’ll keep soaking it in sweetened condensed milk on my own. Give me a call, and you can come over and have some too! I’ll get some coffee ready too, but it won’t be Cubano. I don’t know how to make it.

***If you’d like to visit Havana Restaurant in West Palm Beach, it’s located at 6801 S. Dixie Highway. The takeout window is open 24 hours! Yes, 24 hours! But the dining room opens at 5pm daily. You can check out the menu on their website here.***

Yelp’s Top Five Tres Leches Cakes in Charlotte:

  1. Manolo’s Bakery, 4405 Central Avenue, Suite O
  2. Suarez Bakery, 4245 Park Road
  3. Suarez Bakery and Barra, 1115 N Brevard St in Optimist Hall
  4. La Poblanita Mexican Restaurant and Candy Store, 1925 Westinghouse Blvd
  5. Odalys Bakery, 6407 South Blvd

Practicing My Spanish! (¡Practicando mi Español!)

Practicing my Spanish. (Practicando mi Español.)

When I was in ninth grade, I took Spanish. I don’t remember if a foreign language was required then, but I took it because I knew the Spanish teacher took students with her to Mexico every year, and I wanted to go on that trip. What I didn’t know is that I would love the language and the people of Mexico.

Of course, in the 1980s, we had no way of seeing the future. We didn’t know Spanish would be a hot commodity in the 2000s. Back then, everybody was telling us we needed to learn Russian and Japanese, because it appeared as if Japan would be an economic superpower. Maybe it is. I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that Spanish is something we can use every single day in this country.

So in 1982, I took Spanish just so I could do the Mexico trip with some of my classmates. I’ve written about it before. Five girls from the class went with our pregnant teacher and a friend of hers as our chaperones. The teacher was an awesome Spanish teacher, but we ran pretty unsupervised through Mexico City for days. Mexico City was our first stop, and to this day, I still love that city. After Mexico City, we visited Taxco and Acapulco…back when it was safe to visit Acapulco. I took more Spanish classes as a result of that trip.

I have visited Mexico City (and other cities in Mexico) numerous times since then, and I love it every time. I find that every time I visit, after a few days, my Spanish improves by leaps and bounds. I have friends in Charlotte who are from Mexico, Venezuela, and other Latin American countries, so I get to practice my Spanish some, but it’s a lot of fun to visit  other countries and speak Spanish.

This summer, we are taking several vacations, but the only place I will visit where Spanish is the first language is Puerto Rico. I’ll practice it some, but usually, I find that, in Puerto Rico, when I ask a question in Spanish, they answer me in English. I continue speaking my terrible version of Spanish till they usually humor me by speaking some Spanish back to me. So I have a long list of Latin American countries I really want to visit in the next few years. I’ve been to Costa Rica and Peru, but I have other countries I’d like to visit: Argentina and Panama top the list.

But for now, I’ll get to practice my Spanish in Puerto Rico and just hope some folks there will cooperate. I know a few words I will definitely use while I’m there. I’ll exchange the regular greetings, and then, pretty soon after we arrive, I’ll use this word: churro. Yes, you know that word, and if you don’t, you’re missing out. The hotel where we will stay has some fabulous churros, so I’ll be saying that word really early in the trip when I place my first order! Next word? Alcapurrias! Actually, I’m not even sure that’s a Spanish word, but I’ll be using that word, because I know the pool bar serves great alcapurrias. Not familiar? They’re beef-filled, fried fritters. I can’t make them, but I can eat them! And only one more food word: mallorca! Pan de mallorca is actually a sweet bread made in Puerto Rico, modeled after a bread made in Majorca, Spain. Restaurants make sandwiches with the bread, and my very favorite thing to order is a mallorca con huevo, queso, y jamón (egg, cheese, and ham).

Seriously, I don’t just speak Spanish to order foods. When I’m visiting a country where Spanish is the first language, I try to use my Spanish as much as I can, and I try to learn new words. I love to come home with an expanded vocabulary.

I’m excited about Puerto Rico waaaaay to early, and next year, maybe I’ll make it to Argentina!

 

 

 

Would You Eat This?

I have had a great time trying my hand at gardening for the past two summers. My husband helps me get everything started, and then, I tend the garden and harvest everything. This year, we have some beautiful sunflowers (three different types!), some zinnias, some delicious tomatoes, two varieties of sweet corn, and huitlacoche (also known as corn smut, a fungus on corn ears). While I’m proud of the flowers, tomatoes, and corn, I am just as excited about the huitlacoche (pronounced wheetlacochay).

For those who don’t know, in the US, huitlacoche, or corn smut, is considered a blight on a corn crop. It’s ugly…no doubt about it. And it certainly doesn’t look like something you should eat. The first time I saw it, in fact, I felt a little sick just from looking at it. But for centuries in Mexico, dating back to the Aztec culture, they have eaten it. Basically, it is a fungus that invades the corn plant, and as a result, the corn kernels grow into bulbous galls, which contain the spores of the fungus. It renders the corn useless, but if you know how to cook huitlacoche, it can be a delicious mistake in your garden!

Last year, I found a little on one ear, but this year, I found a lot on two ears, so I harvested it Monday, and yesterday, I cooked it. After finding it, I texted a friend from Mexico, who sent me several recipes for a few different ways to cook huitlacoche, and I opted to make tacos using a combination of some recipes…using onions, garlic, chilies, corn and cheese. You can learn more about huitlacoche here.

I know what you’re thinking. Is huitlacoche safe to eat? Trust me when I say I did a lot of reading before I cooked it. I talked extensively with a friend from Mexico, who assured me I would not die from eating the corn truffles, as they are sometimes called.

For research, a friend went to lunch with me at a Charlotte restaurant called Bakersfield. See its website here. It’s located on the corner of East Boulevard and Kenilworth…right across from Berry Brook Farms. I wanted to see what it was supposed to look like and find out how it is supposed to taste before trying to cook it. After having a Huitlacoche Taco at Bakersfield, I was completely sold! I could hardly wait to make my own at home!

img_9869.jpg

Bakersfield’s Huitlacoche Taco

Many of my friends couldn’t believe I would cook it…and they really couldn’t believe I would eat it! They saw the “before” pictures of the corn smut and decided they would not be eating it. But I cooked it with some chilies, corn, garlic onions, a little oil, and some cheese, and I ate it!Huitlacoche tastes a little like smokey corn…like a mushroom and corn mixed, and cooked with the other ingredients in the recipe, the flavor is amazing. So I was excited to cook it myself! While I’m sure there are some who would not like it, I found it delicious…and I was so proud of myself for not only harvesting it, but also cooking something really good with it. That being said, the rest of my family would not eat it, but they aren’t very adventurous eaters anyway. I’m not sure they believed me when I told them it was safe. Maybe they thought they shouldn’t eat it in case I needed to go to the hospital. But their worries proved unfounded.

img_9996

Huitlacoche Taco at my home! Success!

And frankly, they missed out on a culinary adventure. I’m sure my friends from Mexico would know my version of huitlacoche tacos wasn’t perfect, but they’re impressed I tried. And I’ve impressed myself this time! My friend, Cesar, who grew up in Mexico City, said, “You’re the only American woman I know who can grow it!” Of course, it was purely accidental that I became a huitlacoche farmer, but I’m so glad I did!

If you would like to try huitlacoche but don’t want to do any corn farming, you can get huitlacoche tacos at Bakersfield.

Or maybe next year I will harvest my own huitlacoche again, and you can come over and help me cook them!

 

 

Eat Corn Fungus? You Bet!

I have had a great time trying my hand at gardening for the past two summers. My husband helps me get everything started, and then, I tend the garden and harvest everything. This year, we have some beautiful sunflowers (three different types!), some zinnias, some delicious tomatoes, two varieties of sweet corn, and huitlacoche (also known as corn smut, a fungus on corn ears). While I’m proud of the flowers, tomatoes, and corn, I am just as excited about the huitlacoche (pronounced wheetlacochay).

For those who don’t know, in the US, huitlacoche, or corn smut, is considered a blight on a corn crop. It’s ugly…no doubt about it. And it certainly doesn’t look like something you should eat. The first time I saw it, in fact, I felt a little sick just from looking at it. But for centuries in Mexico, dating back to the Aztec culture, they have eaten it. Basically, it is a fungus that invades the corn plant, and as a result, the corn kernels grow into bulbous galls, which contain the spores of the fungus. It renders the corn useless, but if you know how to cook huitlacoche, it can be a delicious mistake in your garden!

Last year, I found a little on one ear, but this year, I found a lot on two ears, so I harvested it Monday, and yesterday, I cooked it. After finding it, I texted a friend from Mexico, who sent me several recipes for a few different ways to cook huitlacoche, and I opted to make tacos using a combination of some recipes…using onions, garlic, chilies, corn and cheese. You can learn more about huitlacoche here.

I know what you’re thinking. Is huitlacoche safe to eat? Trust me when I say I did a lot of reading before I cooked it. I talked extensively with a friend from Mexico, who assured me I would not die from eating the corn truffles, as they are sometimes called.

For research, a friend went to lunch with me at a Charlotte restaurant called Bakersfield. See its website here. It’s located on the corner of East Boulevard and Kenilworth…right across from Berry Brook Farms. I wanted to see what it was supposed to look like and find out how it is supposed to taste before trying to cook it. After having a Huitlacoche Taco at Bakersfield, I was completely sold! I could hardly wait to make my own at home!

img_9869.jpg

Bakersfield’s Huitlacoche Taco

Many of my friends couldn’t believe I would cook it…and they really couldn’t believe I would eat it! They saw the “before” pictures of the corn smut and decided they would not be eating it. But I cooked it with some chilies, corn, garlic onions, a little oil, and some cheese, and I ate it!Huitlacoche tastes a little like smokey corn…like a mushroom and corn mixed, and cooked with the other ingredients in the recipe, the flavor is amazing. So I was excited to cook it myself! While I’m sure there are some who would not like it, I found it delicious…and I was so proud of myself for not only harvesting it, but also cooking something really good with it. That being said, the rest of my family would not eat it, but they aren’t very adventurous eaters anyway. I’m not sure they believed me when I told them it was safe. Maybe they thought they shouldn’t eat it in case I needed to go to the hospital. But their worries proved unfounded.

img_9996

Huitlacoche Taco at my home! Success!

And frankly, they missed out on a culinary adventure. I’m sure my friends from Mexico would know my version of huitlacoche tacos wasn’t perfect, but they’re impressed I tried. And I’ve impressed myself this time! My friend, Cesar, who grew up in Mexico City, said, “You’re the only American woman I know who can grow it!” Of course, it was purely accidental that I became a huitlacoche farmer, but I’m so glad I did!

If you would like to try huitlacoche but don’t want to do any corn farming, you can get huitlacoche tacos at Bakersfield.

Or maybe next year I will harvest my own huitlacoche again, and you can come over and help me cook them!

 

 

I Need A Vacation From The Rain

My cousin, Patti, and I were talking on the phone this morning. She lives in Florida. She was sitting on her back porch like she does most mornings if it’s not raining.

Every time I talk to her when she is on her back porch, she talks to the cardinal that flies into her yard. She’s not crazy. Well, maybe she is crazy, but talking to the cardinal has nothing to do with that. She looks at the visit from the cardinal as a visit from my mother.

Patti used to visit my mother regularly. Sometimes she would stay for a couple of days, and sometimes she would stay for three weeks. Mother loved every minute of it. She always sounded happy when she answered the phone during Patti’s visits. They would talk and laugh…oh, how they laughed. Mother had a wicked sense of humor, and Patti is hysterically funny…always has been. Whenever I was there at the same time Patti was, my stomach would hurt from laughing.

Patti wasn’t laughing this morning, though. She told me she was “all up in my feelings,” meaning she’s emotional.

Patti lives in the Florida Panhandle, in an area that was hit hard by Hurricane Michael late last year. Fortunately, she didn’t have a lot of damage to her home, but all the trees around her house, for miles, are gone. She lives near a wooded state park that I remember visiting as a child; there were lots of trees. Almost every tree is gone, she says…snapped off by the wind. She has sent me pictures, and I’ve looked at pictures on Google Earth. It looks terrible…still. She says it looks like a war zone.

And lately, to add insult to injury, they’ve had a lot of rain…just like the rest of the Southeastern United States.

So when she said she was all up in her feelings, I said, “Patti, of course you are…it’s all this rain!” We’ve had the “mulligrubs” at our house too, because of all the rain. *The definition of mulligrub from Merriam-Webster is “a despondent, sullen or ill-tempered mood.”* Mother used refer to the blues as “the mulligrubs.”

My personal cure for the mulligrubs? A vacation.

Spring Break can’t get here fast enough for me. Admittedly, the sun has come out for the last couple of days in Charlotte, but I want real sun…the kind you can only get in a tropical location. I’m leaving Sunday for Mexico with a friend, my daughter, and a friend of hers, and we can hardly wait. I plan to sit by the pool or in the beach cabana, enjoying the beverage of my choice (champagne) and laughing with my friend.

And as soon as I get back from our Spring Break, Patti is going on a much-deserved Caribbean cruise with her sister. Hopefully, some time in the Caribbean will brighten her outlook for a while. I’m sure they will laugh a lot, since Patti makes everybody laugh. She was always the funny one in our family…well, my brother gives her some competition there.

I won’t even get into how funny the two of them together are.

So, I just have three more days till I get on that plane to Mexico. Can you tell I’m counting down? I’m saying some prayers that it doesn’t rain the whole time we are there, but even if it does, the change of scenery will be fun, and I’ll have good company. I’m sure my daughter and her friend will avoid us as much as possible, but they will be required to have dinner with us.

And Patti just has nine more days till her cruise…pray for sunny skies for her too.

If you’ve had the “mulligrubs” or been “all up in your feelings” and you live in the Southeast, maybe it’s all the rain. Maybe you need some sunny days…even fifteen minutes of sunlight can lift your mood.

Rain, rain…stay the heck away!

***If you live somewhere that it’s gray and rainy a lot, you might want to invest in a Verilux HappyLight. Amazon has them, starting at $39.95, here. It’s supposed to provide good light therapy to improve your mood. It was recommended to me by a physician, but I’ve just ordered it.***

 

 

 

 

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