Make it a Cuban Turkey Day!

Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow and although it’s not celebrated in Cuba, it has become a tradition for many Cuban Americans in the US.

Cuban or not, chances are your plans include cooking a Thanksgiving meal and rather than doing the same thing you did last year why not add a little Cuban spice and flavor? With that in mind we’d like to share with you the Cuban turkey recipe. Hope you like it and if you try it let us know what you think.

Ingredients

3 heads of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon of black pepper
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of dry oregano
2 tablespoon of salt (or to taste)
2 cups of fresh lime juice
1 cup of white wine
6 ounces of orange juice (concentrated)
1 turkey (15-16 pounds)
Crush the peeled garlic and place in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper and oregano to season. Add the lime juice, white wine and orange juice. Whisk until all ingredients are mixed.
Pierce the turkey breasts, legs and thighs with a sharp knife forming holes for the mix to enter. Pour the mixture over the entire turkey and into the holes. Stuff the crushed garlic heads inside the holes. Cover the turkey and refrigerate overnight to marinate.
Preheat oven to 325° F.
Roast turkey until the internal temperature of the thickest part of the turkey reaches 180° F, this should take about 5 hours. Baste the turkey every 30-40 minutes. Once the breast is golden, cover loosely with a piece of aluminum foil to prevent burning.
Serves 20
Total Preparation time 13 hours 40 minutes (preparation 40 minutes, cooking time 5 hours, marinate 8 hours)

Alumni vs. Student- Who’s Better Off?

When I tell people what I do and where I work (Cuba Travel Services) their first response is “Wow, I didn’t think people from the US were allowed to go to Cuba!” Most people don’t even think it can be done, but like many questions the answer is often “it depends”. On what? Well, it depends on the purpose of your travel. Then of course a series of probing questions follow because it’s complicated and it really does depend.

So instead of telling you about all the categories and regulations which OFAC (Office of Foreign Asset Controls) operates under when it comes to traveling to Cuba, my goal today is to break it down and focus on only one form of travel- general vs. specific or students vs. alumni.

The main question is: Are you a student who’s getting school credits when you travel to Cuba? If the answer is yes then you wouldn’t need a license at all from OFAC because this falls under their General Category. If the answer is no and you are alumni and no credits will be granted then the association would have to travel under a specific license (often a people-to-people license) and this has to be granted by OFAC. The process takes 3-4 months and the sample itinerary provided to OFAC needs to be bullet proof, meaning that it has to clearly demonstrate that “meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba” will take place.

So that answers the question, as a student you are better off as long as you get school credit from your institution because there is no drawn out process. If you’re part of an alumni group; however, you now would have to travel under a license whether it’s granted to your own alumni association or another organization. I think of this license as an umbrella, you can’t travel to Cuba from the US without an umbrella (it doesn’t have to be your umbrella but you have to have one).

For more information please refer to OFAC’s COMPREHENSIVE GUIDELINES FOR LICENSE APPLICATIONS TO ENGAGE IN TRAVEL-RELATED TRANSACTIONS INVOLVING CUBA at http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Documents/cuba.pdf

My Favorite Things-In Cuba

When I was little I always enjoyed taking famous songs and adding my own lyrics. I would change them so that they would relate to what I was experiencing at the moment. My family always found it amusing so I figured you might too (although I am a bit out of practice!) If you plan on reading this blog I would recommend signing it instead, otherwise it won’t make much sense. Hope you like it!

My Favorite Things

Well lit cigars and cold served mojitos
Baseball games and Pete Escovedo
Cha cha cha dancing and shekere shells
These are a few of my favorite things

Rumba music at the Malecón
Clear water beaches and more Cuban rum
Bold colored murals and Spanish flair
These are a few of my favorite things

When the air’s cold
When the mood is dull
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad

Moments Captured

Today I was reading about National Geographic’s Photography Exhibition, which is currently being held in Old Havana. For those of you who’ve been, it’s easy to understand why this would make sense as Cuba is to photographers what a candy store is to a child.

As I was thinking about and viewing the top 50 photographs rated by National Geographic I realized how lucky one must be to capture the perfect moment – one that compels action, creates emotion and it’s universally understood and felt. I’m not suggesting luck is all a person needs because talent is also a huge factor, but it’s not always up to the photographer to capture that magic that can only be captured in that very moment, in that very place, in that very specific instant.

For example, one of my favorite images is titled “Lion Profile” and it was submitted by photographer Boza Ivanovic. Although, lions are already a magnificent creature, the photograph really captures a very deep expression on the lion’s face. There’s almost something human about it and it’s the type of image that can make you cry because it’s so beautiful.

Tools today have tried to make everyone a photographer and the truth is that there are some pretty inspiring images that even my 10 year old cousins take. However, one must be very fortunate still to capture not an image but a moment. Although I envy those that can capture these moments, I am also thankful because they are able to share them with the world in the first place.

Cuban Cigars

Have you ever wondered why Cuban cigars have the reputation of being the best cigars in the world? I did for a long time and then I went to the province of Pinar Del Rio in Cuba where tobacco fields are never ending and where cigar making is pure art. After my visit I gained respect and appreciation not only for the finished product, but for the process itself. From beginning to end or from seed to finished product there are approximately 220 different stages in the process. Expert cigar makers produce approximately 100 cigars a day and once finished samples are tested rigorously to evaluate the quality of the cigar based on range, compactability, sent, combustibility, etc. Once tested, they are dehumidified and after several weeks they are classified based on color and packaged in wooden boxes. But the life of the cigar doesn’t end there, for after this point it is up to the smoker to ensure that the cigar is cared for until the end. Cigars require proper humidity and temperature (16/20°C and a humidity of 65%) in order to be enjoyed to the maximum. So next time you smoke a cigar slow down and enjoy because you’re smoking a piece of art.

Azucar!

Did you know that exactly 91 years ago today the “Queen of Salsa”, Celia Cruz was born in Havana, Cuba? Her voice, enthusiasm and passion for music continue to inspire millions around the world. Happy Birthday Celia, you will always be remembered!

Meat Lovers Love Cuban Food

All meat lovers rejoice at the sight of a Cuban sandwich. Why? Because it has pretty much every type of meat you can imagine-boiled ham, turkey, roast pork and salami. In other words, you can’t go wrong. Ingredients such as pickles, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, bell peppers, mayo and mustard are also included but are mostly there to accessorize the meat.

My First Visit To Cuba

My arrival to the Havana Airport in Cuba was an experience I will never forget. I had both positive and negative thoughts running through my head. Not knowing what to expect when entering the country was nerve wrecking. As the plane landed all the passengers began to clap and cheer. The fact that all the passengers expressed their excitement and celebrated their arrival made me feel at ease immediately. I was able to sit back and really begin to enjoy the journey that I was about to experience.
Walking out of the airport was a bit emotional for me, because there was huge crowd of people standing outside waiting for what could be family and friends to arrive. Every single individual standing there had a smile from ear to ear. All their excitement came out of their pores. Some in tears as they hugged their loved ones and others were jumping with joy.
The drive from the airport to the hotel was unreal, it all began to sink in… I was in Cuba. The classic cars, historical statues, and detailed architecture said it all- I was experiencing Cuba.
As we approached the hotel I set my eyes on the Malecón, I had never seen anything like it and it took my breath away. The energy around it was just so peaceful and thrilling all at once. It was a magical place where couples in love gathered and publicly showed their affection, it was also a place for friends to meet and make plans for the night, and for talented musicians to play their musical instruments with classic tunes for tourists to hear.
Walking the streets of Old Havana was another highlight of my journey. We were able to visit a few Cuban artists and talk to them one on one about their inspirations and vision. Their studios are usually located within their homes and it’s common for them to receive visitors who often gather to watch them work and admire their latest pieces.
As I continued exploring, it became clear to me that Cubans often used their homes to start their own businesses. Some had restaurants and others little shops. As the day ended and dinner came around, it became clear that the most common trait that Cubans carry is friendliness. There was not one person that I passed by that didn’t smile, greet, or wish me a great day.
I cannot talk about my first experience without sharing the entertainment aspect of Cuba. In old Havana there were multiple individuals dancing without music, yet feeling every single move. Some sang and played rhythmic instruments to the beat of “son” in the middle of the day. The entertainment at night time by far was my favorite. I just have to say that that Cubans are excellent performers who simply transfer their happiness onto anyone that sees them.
There is so much expression and history that can be found around Havana. Pure passion, happiness, and celebration are expressed through their music, dance, art, and lifestyle. Overall, I fell in love and appreciate that “echando pa’lante” (carry on and never give up)attitude that Cubans have.