Christmas Asopao

So I am terrible about cooking in a systematic way.  I cook by feel and taste most of the time.  I love cookbooks, but I rarely make things as written more than once. I love them for the ideas, techniques and flavor combinations.  The rest of the time I just throw things in the pot based on what I have on hand. My kids used to teasingly always ask for Mama soup, because they knew they would get something tasty even though it might not be the same as last time. Sometimes there would be swiss chard, other times chickpeas and then next gandules...but it would be yummy and warm.

On Christmas Eve I made a pot of asopao as our dinner, and since Rose is home sick I brought some over to her yesterday. She asked for recipe since she liked it so much.  My first instinct was to send her the I referred to Yvonne Ortiz's A Taste of Puerto Rico, one of the cookbooks I turned to the most over the last 3 decades of living on my own.  I always highly customize them to fit my needs and family ways of cooking.  But as I sent her a photo of recipe I realized how much I had customized it, so much that it was its own thing.  

Asopao is Puerto Rican soup served hot that is either cooked with rice in it or served over rice or in Mofongo.  It is most often made with chicken and its favorful broth is heavily seasoned with sofrito and annatto oil.


I am sorry but I took no pictures while cooking but here is my best approximation of what I made.



1/4 of cup of annatto oil (red-tinged oil made from annatto seeds simmered in olive oil) feel free to sub out a Sazon packet and olive oil or Achiotina (Lard with Annatto).

Diced onions (small onion)

Diced Green pepper (half of medium to large pepper)

(this time I added a bonus ingredient of diced celery, cause I had it)

Diced Potatoes  (chopped baby creamer & red skinned potatoes), approximately a cup

3 chicken breasts roughly chopped and tossed with adobo (can sub garlic powder, cumin, salt  & pepper)

2 cups of Gandules  (I use half a can of Green Pigeon Peas and half of can of Dried Pigeon Peas and then freeze the extras).

3/4 of cup of Recaito (I make my own which is pureed cubanel and green peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, recao leaf)

sometimes I add approximately a tablespoon of condensed tomato paste.

4 to 6 cups of Chicken broth (I actually used some of the turkey broth I had in the fridge)  plus whatever you need to cover everything well.


I start by lightly sautéing the diced onions, peppers and potatoes (and anything else I feel like) in the annatto oil  in a generously sized Dutch oven.  While it cooks, chop the chicken and toss with adobo. When the onions start to look translucent, I added the chicken.  I mix it up enthusiastically with the cooking veggies, so it gets coated with the red oil.  I then dump in the recaito & tomato paste in, followed by the broth and the gandules.  Stir it all up and simmer over medium low heat, till it starts looking good like it all cooked. I simmer mine about 45ish minutes but it could have been done sooner but the gandules were a block of ice when I dumped them in the pot.

While the soup is simmering, cook up some rice. I prefer medium grain.  I do 1 cup for 1 and 1/2 cup of water, plus salt and olive oil.

To serve, add rice to the bottom of your bowl and pour soup over it.


Buen Provecho y Prospero Año Nuevo


Covid-19 Vaccination at the Henrietta Dome

Last week I was one of the lucky eligible ones to get an appointment for the Covid-19 Vaccine at the clinics organized by NYS & Monroe County at the Henrietta dome.

A lot of folks wanted to know about the process. I’m sure it will evolve as today was the first day but a little info is better than none!

177FD066-E35F-4465-AE47-A7AC1A0E8821There are two ways to drive into the Dome parking lot, one off Calkins Rd and another off East Henrietta Rd.  At both entrances there are folks in fatigues stationed. They will ask if you gave an appointment and point you to the parking & the doors you are to go to.  I was instructed to wait till 5 minutes before my appointment before going in.

CE20D180-6E7D-4BB8-AB7F-01E3D38753F3The entrance doors were clearly marked. Once inside a greeter will verify you have an appointment and ask you to sanitize your hands.   They will send you to the next table where they will take your temp and give you a consent/info form to fill out. You will want your insurance card & Primary care doctor’s info.  They have clean pens and properly spaced work spaces.  Once that step is completed you go up to the registration desk where they look up and verify the information on your online form before directing you towards the dome ramp.  At the end of the ramp I was given an information packet and then directed down towards where another volunteer waited to point me toward an usher who walked me to an available vaccine team.

0563D837-4803-452C-AD4D-64433E6480A1The vaccination team ( three at my table) were friendly and chatty as they ran down through the process and administered the vaccine. At this point I had been in the building for about 10 minutes.  I was given my vaccination card and told I would be called to schedule my follow up shot at the dome in the next week or two. 10B25649-7933-4EC4-B838-3FEE71CEB170

I was then given a slip of paper with my discharge time and directed to the waiting area with well spaced folding chairs. There staff walked around to check on folks till their 15 minutes were up and then you could excuse yourself and exit toward the parking lot.  I was in and out in less than 25 minutes!



Tension and Preparation

Since early January the whole world has been watching with wariness the explosion of a new virus.  As a Puerto Rican, whose recent history involves seeing the slow-motion inefficient responses by the US and local governments to Irma/Maria and the Southern Puerto Rican quakes, all I could feel was dread.  Those disasters are fairly straight forward, we have lots of plans and policies that were ignored and not followed, so I came into this will little confidence that our government would react appropriately.  Yet daily life just didn't change a whole lot.   But things have been ramping up for the last few weeks.  My family has been in daily texting contact for the last few weeks, exchanging news updates, and preparation suggestions. We have been giving each other advice, and something very pointed encouragement to change plans.

As of yesterday everyone is in place where we plan to ride this out.  My father and his wife in their well-stocked apartment.  My mother and brother are hunkering down together, and my oldest is home from university in Long Island.  The last few weeks were stressful for both us as we waited to hear about whether their school would close or not.

We have a stocked up kitchen, plenty of books and movies to read and now school has been cancelled for me and my youngest. The only who will be leaving the house regularly is Chris, whose work as a Hospital chaplain is still ongoing and honestly just ramping up.

In a lot way the last few days have been invigorating, I was able to do something constructive and helpful at work (helping create a home learning resources page for my students).  We checked out lots and lots of books to our students on Friday as everyone sensed we might not be back on Monday.

I am trying to set up a good routine for us at home.  The kids and I looked through some library cookbooks for new recipes to try while we stay home. I've restarted my morning yoga, and we went for a walk yesterday and hope to do so again today. I started a new book (been reading too much news to read) and plan to take some part of each day to write.

here we go.

Almost a year since Maria

As Hurricane Florence leaves its sodden mark on the Carolinas, I feel the anniversary of Maria creeping closer. From the hurricane graphics, to tuning into listen to facebook-live weather report by Ada Monzon, it all brings me back to the uncertainty we felt last year, first with Irma and then again with Maria. 

For our family, things have settled into a new normal. My mother, who we evacuated to Rochester, ten days after Maria passed, spent the rest of the fall and some of the winter with us while we waited for things to normalize in Puerto Rico. She went back this spring. She rejoiced to reconnect with friends, spend time with her church community and she negotiated with the weirdness of the normal and new normal of it all. She documented the flamboyans that survived and flowered again on her instagram. She helped along with her Salvation Army connections to bring needed supplies and other things to communities still hurting around the island. She reported to us how the landscape had changed on her trips to check our apartment on the south side of the island.  

Even though my mother had insurance and the repairs to her apartment relatively minor (new windows and sliding glass doors) we ended up having to wait months to have them replaced and paying for them out of pocket.  I am thankful we had the ability to do so, but I think of all the people who did not have that option, who still a year after Maria are waiting to repair their homes. Every time a family member goes back they note all the blue-tarp roofs still visible from the sky and if insurance is dragging their feet on paying apartment complexes and offering only a fraction of what is needed, it is not a surprise that they must be doing even worse to individual home owners.

After my sister and her wife decided to move to town, my mother, like one of her sisters decided she shouldn't spend another hurricane season in Puerto Rico and instead move close to us. We have put in an application for a apartment not far from my house and are making plans to ready her apartment in Puerto Rico for sale or rental.

My apartment in Puerto Rico is fine, although I haven't been there in a year. My father, who has made his home in Florida his main residence now, will be helping us renovate it this fall and hopefully we can spend part of Christmas or Feb break there soon.

I keep thinking about how blessed we were. Even if the ten days my mother was stuck without water or power in PR, seem like a minor suffering compared to those who had not option but to stay put.  We didn't lose anything, and so many lost so much.

 We get frustrated hearing the Puerto Rico government resist updating the death totals for so long and then president, deny the death totals so casually, when we know how the poor and ill suffered because of lack of preparation and the slow response.  We all watch the weather news in PR carefully, noting each storm, and hoping it veers away or dissipates.

Don't forget about Puerto Rico. A year on, there is still so much to be done.

Adjusting to a new normal in a Post-Maria world.

Puerto Rico is still in crisis. A slow uneven frustrating crisis.  My family thankfully is fine.  I read the news each morning and pray. I am thankful for all who are helping while knowing the help is not enough and the path will be long and hard.

We were able to fly Mami out almost 2 weeks ago now. She is getting comfortable in our house, adjusting slowly to the idea that she might be here longer than she expected, missing her friends and her routines but staying busy making all the arrangements she needs to make. She has written a couple of blog posts about her experiences during and immediately after Maria.

 My father flew down to Puerto Rico last week. He made a quick survey of our properties and was soundly surprised at how well they fared. Our apartment in Maunabo (very close to where the storm came ashore) was remarkably unaffected. Some superficial damage, some lost furniture but nothing hard to replace or repair.  Although my father had planned on staying for a few weeks he called me Saturday morning to update me on his findings and ask me for help on getting an earlier flight.  He said the devastation was just overwhelming and the situation felt unstable. Although he was staying with friends at a house with a generator and water, he was not eager to stay longer. My father is a keen observer of the Puerto Rican economy. He is a long-time investor and former real-estate developer. He is very worried about how people will cope after businesses start failing in the coming months. He expects many will have to close due to lack of electricity, stock and customers. Many business in PR already were balanced on a knife's edge and this prolonged crisis will only further endanger them. He said if the government doesn't get a bailout soon, many of the first responders who have been working endless shifts will not be paid after the end of the month. What that would be like is hard to fathom considering how overtaxed they already are and how opportunistic crime gangs are already causing additional losses to a vulnerable population.

 My cousin Michelle is keeping busy. She is freelance reporter and she has launched a YouTube channel where she is concentrating on providing English-speaking Puerto Rico residents with news about Maria. She is based out of the convention center and has been able to interview important officials including Lt.General Buchannan on the slow progress of the recovery process.


My cousin Virginia continues to gather supplies for her sisters and our extended family. She sent off yet another box yesterday. This time sending via Fed-ex because it has become harder to send supplies via airplane  and none of the care packages sent by mail seem to be arriving at their destinations.

If you are reading this I urge you to call your reps. Please urge them to pass a generous redevelopment and reconstruction bill for Puerto Rico and USVI. Urge them to work on debt relief for the island. Don't forget PR, and welcome the many that will be arriving on the mainland.

and if you want to hear the names of all the towns of Puerto Rico sung to melody punctuated by the sound of coquis, listen to Lin Manuel Miranda's amazing new song. It touched my heart greatly.


Dear Friends, How to help...

This month has been rough. Back to school, back to work but with my attention divided as I watched not just one storm but two hit Puerto Rico.

I have a lot family still there including my mother. She and my immediate family are okay, safe and sound, even if their homes are not. We have been lucky to have nearly daily contact with family, while hundreds of thousands are still waiting to hear from their loved ones.

We hope to be able to evacuate her on Tuesday (if the airlines don't cancel her flights once again like they have twice already this month after Irma).  

The island is devastated by this hurricane to an extent never seen by my generation and that of my mother's. There is no region of the island that is untouched, and everyone is working together to restore power, keep each other safe, despite damaged roads, shattered infrastructure (power and water are out to the whole island) and a barely functional phone system (80 to 85% of all cell towers in PR have been destroyed).

It is emotionally overwhelming but at the same time necessary to spend time combing the local news for information about conditions.  Everyday there is another heart-breaking photo collection. Yesterday was seeing pictures of my Alma Mater, Wesleyan Academy  or Watching a aerial video of our second home in Maunabo.

Many have asked me for ideas on how to help. Thank you, I know it is hard to take yet another disaster in, and  I imagine lots of you are suffering from disaster fatigue

There are lot of good organizations on the ground already mobilizing to help.


This is a good listing of place accepting donations:


However I know many people like to give tangible items:


A group out of DC (United for Puerto Rico) is coordinating with the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration Office and has created an Amazon Wish List, for items they are gathering to be sent down:


If you want to be even more personal,  my cousin Virginia Rojas-Firpo is coordinating a care-package drive with the help of her cousin in Naranjito, a small town in the center of the island my mother's family is from and where they don't expect official help quite a while.

She shares a list of the most needed items and an address.  


Most of all I just covet your attention to what is happening in PR and other Caribbean island once the news coverage ends and please share this with anyone who is looking for ideas on how to help.


Muchisimas Gracias, 

Worth the Chimichurri

Growing up we didn't grill steaks  very often but if we  did, they were well-seasoned skirt steak smothered in salty-garlicky chimchurri.

Chris and the girls  don't  have the  same  garlic addiction I have so  over the  years I've stopped making  chimichurri when I make  steak  (My siblings, Rosie and Juan D. can  groan in disbelieving unison here).

Maybe because's today's weather  is so PR-like or because in recent months I've started being better about taking care of myself and not just  everyone else's needs.  I treated myself by making some Chimichurri along with our steaks. No one else enjoyed it with  their dinner, but  I sure did.  

As a mother and as I wife I'm very  loved and appreciated, my life is not one of sad martyrdom but I do sometimes forget to cater to myself the same way I care for others. My joy in each bite was  a reminder that I needed to remember that I'm  worth the effort of making the Chimichurri,  even if I am the only one that enjoys it.

With peace, but with tears

This morning Chris let our congregation know that after 8.5 years of full-time ministry at RCRC he will be stepping down as pastor and leave full-time parish ministry sometime in June.  There were tears and then standing ovation by the congregation in appreciation for his work and years of service.

I was a mess this morning, I started crying even before he made the announcement because I knew it was coming and the doxology was a tear-jerker.  I wasn't even going to try not to cry. I had a big wad of tissues stuffed into my purse. I got some big hugs before and after the service.  I had some good and some awkward conversations. But that big sad moment that I had been dreading is done. Chris and I have a lot of peace about the decisions and the reasons we have moved to make the changes we have but our exact plans are still not fully set.

So what is next?

We are staying here. We are not moving. We own our home and want to finish raising our children here.  Our daughters love their schools, I love my job and we all love the area and the many friends we have made.

A few months ago, after  several years of questioning and prayer, Chris decided to apply to the University of Rochester's CPE program with the goal of training to become a hospital or hospice chaplain.  The time Chris has spent doing hospital visits with ill or dying and their families has been one of the most rewarding and consistently satisfying parts of his job as pastor. Hopefully he will be accepted into the program.

He also pursuing being accepted a minister with the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the hopes of finding a pastoral care or other part-time position within that denomination. 

We have a lot to think about it and figure out in the coming months, so we will covet your prayers that doors keep opening




Pray. Pray for me, Pray for Chris and pray for our daughters. For days, weeks, months, there have been worries and concerns I wish I could share but I can't, so I haven't. I can't tell you how many posts I have started and then deleted. Life in ministry is lonely even you are surrounded by loving friends and church family. So tonight I ask you to pray for us. I ask you to pray for renewal, for wisdom and for peace.

And because I can't just give you that vague post, I can assure that while those worries and concerns are big they not our whole life. We have plenty of blessings and good things going on.

Our girls are happy. They had the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time playing games and talking with their aunts Kendall and Rosie and their Oma and Opa on consecutive weekends. Zee continues to be active in Karate Demo team. Aay is busy with her music, drama and art. They are thriving.

I recently had the very fun experience of being interviewed by LatinoUSA. They wanted to talk to a Latino family whose members span the whole political spectrum. The whole experience was fun. A local radio producer, Matt came twice to our house and set up a mini-recording studio. My sister and I had a chance to talk over the phone to Fernanda Echevarri one of the producers of the show about our family and the way we talk about politics and how we react to politicians who don't understand the diversity within the Latino community. Fernanda and Matt were both very nice and interesting people to get to know. They plan to check with the rest of my family throughout the year as the election nears. In my church life I have transitioned from help lead adult Sunday School to working with our youngest kids. Parents are ever so thankful and all I feel is blessed when I am done.

Chris has many busy nights, full of church or library board meetings but in his spare moments he has been diving deep into music research projects, most recently Blues and 90's Alternative Music. As family, we have really enjoyed the playlists he has crafted. He is starting to make plans for spring educational trip.

So if you think of us, please add us to your prayer list.



Rainy Day Fare: Chesseburger soup

Last fall we introduced our girls to cheeseburger soup. It was a staple of our young and poor days.

Zee often asks me to make it on days I don't have a handy can of Campbells condensed cheese soup. Today when she asked I decided to look at internet receipes and see if there was any that I could adapt to our preferences.

I ended up using this one from Taste of Home. I made a quite a number of small variations and it turned out great.

1/2 pound ground beef
1 medium chopped onion
4 cloves of garlic (chopped)
3/4 cup diced small celery
4 tablespoons butter, divided
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups diced peeled potatoes (1-3/4 pounds)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
1-1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Adobo seasoning to taste

Toppings: Shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, diced onions, diced tomatoes and sour cream

In a saucepan, saute the onion, celery and garlic in 1 tablespoon butter until vegetables are tender. Add the broth, potatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until potatoes are tender. While potatoes and veggies simmer, brown the ground beef, lightly seasoned with adobo powder.

When veggies and potatoes are tender, scoop into blender and puree. Add the potato mixture back into the broth and add the browned and drained beef. While it simmers and thickens on low. Make the roux, melting 3 tbsp of butter and thickening with flour. Slowly add the 1 1/2 cups of milk to the roux and then melt in the 2 cups of cheese. Mix into the soup along with salt and pepper to taste. When the soup is creamy and mixed together, serve hot. Add toppings/garnishes just prior to eating.