Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Gruban booth is back! Yum!

 Editor's note: This article was published last year to introduce the Gruban booth at the St. Raphael Festival. We republish it this year for anyone who missed it and might like to try the delicious Greek and Cuban food available at the booth. Enjoy!

By Lisette Crespo Shields

When you are Latin most every big event is surrounded by food. My Cuban family is no different.

My dad, Dr. Artagnan Crespo, was the cook in our family. Exiled from Cuba in 1960, he went to live with my mom’s ailing dad who had a house on Key Biscayne in Miami.

My grandfather was quite the cook, but when he lived in Miami he was so ill he was not able to cook, so he taught my dad all the family recipes. My dad learned to love to cook and went on to add to that great pile of family recipes.

One of my dad’s most famous dishes was his black beans. Christmas Eve we would always have the traditional Noche Buena meal consisting of pork, black beans, rice and yucca. My dad did all the cooking for this meal and it was always amazing. He never followed a recipe, adding a little here or there until he liked the way it tasted.

He would often have his nurses and staff over and cook for them. I am so glad they encouraged him to put a few of his recipes in a cook book the clinic had put together.

After my father passed away in 1986 from lung cancer, family dinners were not the same. My mom, Beatriz, had to step up and start cooking all the major holiday foods. She did not enjoy it as my dad did, but she would follow the recipes my dad left and it was like he was back cooking. The meals were a great.

My mom was more than willing to pass the torch of the holiday dinners to her children. I got Christmas Eve and Noche Buena. Following my dad’s recipes to the letter, my first Christmas Eve dinner was a hit. I enjoy making the beans, and I would often make them for family parties or for friends. As my dad always said, “the flavor is all in the paste you grind together in the mortar."

When I met my husband, he bragged “wait to you taste my mom’s cooking.” Boy, was he right. His mom, Yiota, could cook!

They had a lot of the same traditions as my family. Holiday and family parties were celebrated around the dinner table with one of Yiota’s amazing meals. Lamb, tzatziki sauce, Greek dolmades and avgolemono soup became part of my kids' normal dinners.

I found out that my mother-in-law's start with food was similar to my dad’s in that she was not a cook or had not always wanted to be a cook.

She married a U.S. Air Force lieutenant general and lived in a new place every few years. She tried to make American food, fried chicken to be exact, and it was disastrous.

Yiota learned how to make fried chicken from her North Carolina husband Woody. Yiota’s fried chicken is made so well now that my husband often requests it as one of his birthday dishes.

The tradition continues. I am passing my dad’s recipes on to my daughter, Kalista, who loves to cook. She often cooks with Yiota, learning all the Greek recipes as well.

The last 15 years of my life have been such a combination of Greek and Cuban food that when I heard we were going to have specialty booths at the St. Raphael Festival I suggested the Gruban booth.

Of course, I had to explain what a Gruban was. Recently we added on an addition to the back of the house. It was a room for the kids and we wanted to name it to make it their own.

My husband, Frank, said that since the kids were part Greek and Cuban how about naming it the Gruban room. The name Gruban took birth and it now a part of our regular vernacular.

I hope everyone gets a chance to come out and enjoy this wonderful festival and don’t forget to stop by the Gruban booth for some amazing food.

Photo: From left, Beatriz Crespo, Lisette Crespo Shields, Woody Shields, Yiota Shields, Frank Shields. 

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