Three Americans Visited Cuba...

Dan Goldberg, Andrea Kuhn and Jody Eddy visited Cuba three times. Then they wrote a cookbook.

Cuba!: Recipes and Stories from the Cuban Kitchen

Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Length: 256 pages
Author: Dan Goldberg, Andrea Kuhn, and Jody Eddy
Price: $30.00
Format: hardcover
Publication date: 2016-09

Dan Goldberg, Andrea Kuhn and Jody Eddy -- a photographer, prop stylist, and food writer, respectively -- do not speak Spanish. None are of Cuban descent. As they decided to write a cookbook about Cuba before Fidel Castro's death, the authors were unable to travel to or within Cuba freely. After visiting Cuba three times, they wrote Cuba!. The resulting cookbook offers only a surface glimpse of the nation and its cuisine, filling the gaps with florid writing and sweeping generalizations about a country, its people, and the food they eat.

The headnote to a Rice and Beans recipe sets the tone:

Though rice paddies do exist in Cuba and the nation used to rely solely on its indigenous varieties, locally grown rice is a rare find in the modern Cuban pantry. It is hoped (italics mine) that as Cubans begin to explore their culinary traditions once more, they will rediscover their indigenous rice varieties.

Who, precisely, is doing the hoping?

Cuba! is permeated with this kind of writing. The Cubans of Cuba! may be oppressed, but never are they depressed. Time and again their resourcefulness, hospitality, and authenticity is extolled, often to the detriment of their wealthier neighbors. Chapter Two, "Snack and Chat", tells the story of Pepe's mother, who drops her radio from a third story balcony. A handy neighbor pieces it back together with cardboard. The authors write:

We discovered throughout our travels that a Cuban will never question you if you are in need, and if they do not have an immediate solution for whatever ails you, they will find it for you without judgment. They support each other in the same way, creating for themselves an impregnable safety net that will always catch whoever is about to tumble off the precipice. There is a resourcefulness and inventiveness about the Cuban people, born of a struggle that ultimately resulted in a creative and unconventional approach to solving life's most challenging problems.

Instead of being horrified -- cardboard! -- the authors are charmed. Acknowledging the Cuban custom of "snack and chat", or gathering to eat, drink, and problem solve, arises from "a lack of resources", Cuba! glorifies the experience. The warm evening, cool mojitos, and tasty empanadas lead the authors to wax nostalgic, invoking grandmothers longing for the good old days. Yet the authors are free to fly home to America, with its internet access and 600 cable channels. Pepe's mother, meanwhile, is stuck with her cardboard radio.

This superficial view is evident in the unsettlingly beautiful photography. Cuba! sings with vibrant imagery: plangent blues, sunny yellows, soft Frida Kahlo pinks. The people of Cuba are radiant, by turns soulful and outright sexy. But those faded walls and soulful stares belie a wretched poverty. Teetering walls are covered with torn, faded paper. Food is cooked in cheap tin pans and eaten off cracked plastic plates. In one shot -- perhaps meant to be atmospheric -- a rooster flaps through a dirty kitchen. In another, black bean soup simmers atop an ancient two-burner cooktop.That the writing overlooks this dissonance makes is disconcerting.

The authors describe visiting organic fincas or farms, and the wonderful meals served there. They also discuss the rise of organoponicos, or privately-owned organic farms, writing, "Urban farmers have increased from just under ten thousand in the early 1990s to well over forty-five thousand in the past decade."

Despite this, Cuba! doesn't offer a single savory vegetable or fruit preparation, unless one considers condiments like salsas part of a balanced diet. Instead, Cuba!'s recipes lean heavily toward starchy foods like plantains, rice, and potatoes, with an incredible 28 savory recipes and two more desserts calling for a skillet or deep frying. Is this truly what the people of Cuba live on? Fried, starchy food?

What about those recipes, anyway? Cuba! is organized by cute chapter headings revealing little of their contents. Yes, "Basic Training", with its recipes for broths and rice, is clearly introductory. Don't look for reason beyond that. Under "Pressed and Starched" you'll find recipes for Hamburger with Crispy Shoestring Potato and Pineapple Avocado Salsa; "Three Amigos", Ribs with Guava BBQ Sauce and Crispy Yuca. "All Aboard!" gives readers Savory Goat Stew and Guava Hand Pies. "Azucar (Sugar)", reasonably, is a dessert chapter.

Into the kitchen.

Cuba!'s recipes are wildly inconsistent, ranging from simple chicken and rice dishes to complex shellfish preparations requiring the skills, equipment, and budgets of a professional chef. A few recipes don't appear to be thoroughly vetted; a recipe for fish stock calls only for "fish parts", neglecting to mention said "fish parts" should only be from white fish. Add dark, oily fish like salmon or mackerel to a stock and the result will be inedibly bitter.

The recipe for Cream of Malanga Soup calls for peeling malanga, also known as taro. Cuba! fails to warn readers that raw malanga can cause extreme itching, making it advisable to wear gloves while peeling it. Once cooked, the rogue enzyme is disabled.

Papas Rellenas won't cause itching, but they could be costly. The recipe calls for making cream cheese mashed potatoes and stuffing them with a picadillo filling. The Papas Rellenas recipe calls for two cups of picadillo filling. But the picadillo recipe makes "about three cups". What to do with the leftover cup? Cuba! suggests you "Save the rest in a covered container in the fridge for up to one week." The authors should either offer suggestions for using up the leftover filling or scale the recipe down so there isn't any.

Recipes like Tostones Stuffed with Lobster and Conch, Vedado Lobster Rolls, and Squid Ink Empanadas are hardly the province of home cooks. Each asks for expensive, highly perishable ingredients that must be handled with great skill: lobster-wrangling and empanada-making aren't exactly like tossing a burger on the barbie. And the continual emphasis on deep frying -- Crispy Pork with Mango Salsa, Codfish Fritters, Crispy Yuca -- assumes high-power ventilation and convenient disposal of rivers of used cooking oil.

Incidentally, curious about fresh conch, I searched the internet. Five pounds of fresh conch, shipped from Virginia, is mine for a mere $134. Cross-country shipping to California not included.

Can a person cook from Cuba!? Yes. Yellow Rice, which I made with turmeric instead of bijol, a yellow coloring involving achiote, is rice with chicken broth, garlic, onion, and frozen peas. While neither ingredient is novel nor exciting, the result is perfectly nice. We ate this with Braised Garlic Chicken, which calls for a marinade of 20 garlic cloves, and lieu of sour orange juice, fresh lime and orange juices mixed together. Season with oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. The result is a classic chicken and rice combo with a nicely citrus angle.

Cuban Fried Rice comes from Chef Shugui Luo, Havana Chinatown's last Chinese chef. The dish successfully melds China's beloved leftover rice dish with shrimp, cilantro, bell pepper, Spanish-style chorizo, leftover diced pork and a swirl of Sriracha sauce. But wait... where's the Cuban food? Aren't all these ingredients, well, Chinese? Arguably, yes. Cuban Fried Rice makes an excellent argument for great food transcending borders.

Cuba! takes Ropa Vieja -- a play on "old clothes' -- and makes it into sliders. I unslidered it, returning it to classic Ropa Vieja: beef chuck cooked for hours into tenderness, here with onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomato sauce, tomato paste, paprika, black pepper and a bottle of pilsner. The two tablespoons of white vinegar are key, lending an inimitable tang. Pickled onions went nicely alongside -- a quick pour of heated white vinegar over a sliced red onion.

Time forbade testing the dessert chapter. Those who feel at ease making caramel might try the flans, while dab hands with pots of boiling oil might try Churros. I'm holding out for the Coconut Tres Leches Cake, a straightforward recipe calling for coconut milk, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and five eggs.

Cuba! concludes "With a Twist", a handful of recipes for the nation's iconic drinks: the Cuba Libre, the Mojito, the Daiquiri. It is here in the drinks chapter where the de rigeur visit Hemingway's Finca La Vigia transpires. The authors' guide, Pepe, is moved to deliver a speech on Papa, only partially quoted here:

We existed with him in a mutual state of respect and solidarity. It is absolute. We seek an unwavering fellowship (with Americans) even after all these years of separation. Hemingway is that idealized American for us. He is our Papa.

True understanding of a country and its cuisine comes after years of dedicated immersion. Writers like Fuchsia Dunlop, Carolyn Phillips, and Paula Wolfert have devoted their lives to their respective cuisines, living in the countries whose foods fascinated them, learning the languages of those cuisines, and reading the literature -- not only the cookbooks, but the novels and histories, too. Their informative cookbooks and precisely written recipes reflect this devotion.

Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid worked extensively in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Political tensions were often high. The couple took the utmost care to depict what they saw without insulting their host nations. Their work sets an example for anyone wishing to perform culinary research in a politically sensitive locale. Naomi Duguid, now working alone, carries on this tradition with recent books Burma: Rivers of Flavor and Taste of Persia, her most politically sensitive book.

Cuba! does none of the above. This is a harsh yet unavoidable assessment. A relentlessly rosy, superficial view of a people in obvious difficulty is discomfiting, even offensive. Photography bolstering this message leaves the viewer, comfortably seated amid her comparatively new appliances, feeling shamed.

The recipes? When a recipe can't bother to warn you against salmon in fish broth or to wear gloves when handling taro, how can you trust the more complex or expensive recipes? You can't.

A few months ago I reviewed Anthony Bourdain's Appetites for this magazine. It's a cookbook full of complex recipes calling for a great deal of time and often expensive ingredients. Yet the recipes are clearly written and precise (thank you, Laurie Woolever). At no time is the cook, however unskilled, left hanging. Bourdain's recipes work perfectly. Every time.

The few recipes a cook can use in Cuba! -- recipes somebody with passable kitchen skills can put together on a Tuesday night, recipes without $134 ingredients, recipes without deep dives into boiling oil -- are easily found elsewhere. Yes, Chicken with Yellow Rice and Ropa Vieja are delicious. This dish and others included here are not, however, unique to Cuba.

Fidel Castro's November 2016 death and the immediate lifting of the American travel ban to Cuba means now we -- Americans and Cubans -- truly can hope for greater freedom of exchange between nations. This includes the ability to deeply immerse ourselves in one another's food cultures, to become bilingual, bicultural, and write wonderful cookbooks about one another's cuisines.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

The Hall of Fame has been harshly criticized for some of its more inexplicable exclusions and for neglecting certain subgenres of music. Cynicism and negativity over the Hall's selection process and membership is fairly widespread. That said, despite the controversies and legitimate gripes, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is still widely viewed as a career milestone. The Hall's stature feeds its surrounding controversies: after all, nobody would care to argue so vehemently about the merits of one artist over another if it wasn't important. Very rarely will a newly inducted artist miss the opportunity to appear at the star-studded ceremony to accept their honor.

The criteria for nomination is as follows: "Artists -- a group encompassing performers, composers and/or musicians -- become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first commercial recording. Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock and roll." Specifically for performers, "This category honors bands or solo artists which demonstrate musical excellence. Such a descriptor includes (but isn't limited to) influence on other performers or genres; length and depth of career and catalog; stylistic innovations; or superior technique and skills."

These standards allow the selection committee wide latitude with their choices, and generating a list that would create zero controversy is an obvious impossibility. As for those deserving artists yet to be included, their time will surely come. There has purportedly been an emphasis on increasing diversity among the nominating committee and voters in recent years, and the list of contenders for the class of 2018 reflects this.

Radiohead, as expected and deserved, are nominated in their first year of eligibility, and there is little doubt they will be inducted. Other nominees include Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, the Cars, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Eurythmics, J. Geils Band, Judas Priest, LL Cool J, MC5, the Meters, the Moody Blues, Rage Against the Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Link Wray and the Zombies. It's a strong and varied group.

Perhaps the most pleasant surprise on the list, however, is the British duo Eurythmics. Even though they've been eligible since 2006, this is their first nomination. Dave Stewart and Annie Lennox certainly deserve recognition for their important contributions to the musical fabric of the last 40 years. While Eurythmics have always been generally respected, they've never been darlings with the critics like some of their contemporaries. It's puzzling as to why. Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting and creative audacity. Lennox is second to noone as a vocalist, not just in her lead parts but also in the creative, often rhythmic way she uses her voice as an instrument. This nomination could boost the stature and perception of Eurythmics' body of work immeasurably.

Although Eurythmics are often consigned strictly to the synthpop genre, that designation fits only a portion of their repertoire. Each of their nine studio albums has its own unique vibe while retaining the duo's core identity. Eurythmics never repeat themselves, often taking bold risks and swerving in unexpected directions. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Eurythmics didn't "sell out" or compromise by chasing after obvious Top 40 hits. Even their most popular singles aren't commercial in the traditional sense, and they've always sounded like nobody else on the radio.

Despite the sudden emergence of their 1983 single "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" as an MTV staple and international smash, Eurythmics are far from an overnight success story. Their story begins in London, 1975, when Stewart fortuitously encountered Lennox at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress. The Scottish singer had recently dropped out of the Royal Academy of Music, which she felt didn't suit her musical interests. Stewart and Lennox strongly connected over their love of music, and they quickly became a couple who were inseparable. Along with singer/ songwriter/ guitarist Peet Coombes, Stewart and Lennox formed a short-lived group the Catch. After one failed single, they added two members and renamed themselves the Tourists.

Coombes was the dominant creative force and primary songwriter behind the Tourists. Lennox and Coombes shared vocals on the band's dour and melancholy power-pop. The Tourists released three albums and managed a handful of chart appearances in the UK. Two of their singles, a peppy cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You" and the hard-rocking "So Good T\to Be Back Home Again", made the UK Top 10. The band toured extensively, but their success was fleeting. The Tourists' third album, Luminous Basement (1980), tanked badly despite containing their strongest material yet, and the group dissolved shortly thereafter.

Lennox and Stewart also endured a painful ending to their sometimes tumultuous romance, but they recognized the power of their musical chemistry and decided to continue working together as a duo. They were a pair "who couldn't be together, and who could not be apart", as Lennox reflects many years later in the song "17 Again". History has shown that they made the right decision: Stewart and Lennox compliment each other intuitively through a shared passion for music, the thrill of experimentation, and the need for emotional release that songwriting and performing allows.

The name Eurythmics was derived from a technique used to teach music to children based on sensory and physical methods of learning rhythm. The newly-christened duo signed with RCA Records and in early 1981 headed to Germany to record their debut album with highly-respected krautrock producer Conny Plank.

Plank already had a long string of acclaimed albums to his credit, including collaborations with Neu!, Can, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and Brian Eno among others. The sessions for what would become Eurythmics' debut album, In the Garden, were held at Plank's studio in Cologne. He brought several of his regular collaborators into the proceedings, including bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of avant-garde rockers Can, Blondie drummer Clem Burke and D.A.F. electronics whiz Robert Görl. Stewart has described the sessions as a learning experience that helped expand his perception of what pop music could be and how it could be created without following any rules, a perspective that served Eurythmics well.

Eurythmics' austere and hypnotic debut single "Never Gonna Cry Again" was released in May 1981. They filmed a low-budget video and landed a couple TV slots to promote the track, but the song's haunted nature did not translate to mainstream success: it barely scraped the lower reaches of the UK singles chart. A second single, the dreamy guitar-rocker "Belinda", followed in August but failed to chart.

In the Garden was finally released in October 1981, but without a hit to generate momentum it was barely noticed. Despite scant sales figures, the album's gloomy psychedelic guitar-pop makes for a rather strong debut. In the Garden exists in late summer shadows, densely atmospheric and shrouded in a veil of dread. Lennox's vocals are understated, subtle and lower in the mix than on subsequent albums. Sound effects, odd vocalizations and bits of sonic experimentation fade in and out like flashes of hazily repressed memory.

RCA wasn't eager to invest in a follow-up to In the Garden after its disappointing reception, so Stewart financed Eurythmics' second album largely through a personal bank loan. Faced with a minuscule budget, they worked in a London warehouse to avoid spending money on studio time. They were able to purchase cheap second-hand equipment for the sessions, including the basic TEAC 8-track on which most of the album was recorded. Adam Williams, former bassist for the ska band the Selectors, helped the duo learn the equipment while co-producing some of their earliest tracks.

The primitive set-up was the ultimate blessing in disguise. Since they were financing the sessions and self-producing, Eurythmics had the freedom to experiment with no oversight. As both Lennox and Stewart were enduring periods of deep personal strife at the time, the sessions evolved into an emotional and creative catharsis that helped shape the mercurial nature of the music. It was out of this environment that a classic was born.

Despite appearing only a few months after their debut album, the first single to emerge from the new sessions proved radically different than any of Eurythmics' prior work. Released in April 1982, "This Is the House" is a flamboyant, horn-driven spectacle on which Lennox belts out a vocal more confident and brash than any of her prior work. The song's odd mix of synthpop, R&B; and latin influences renders it completely unique, but despite its infectious ingenuity and beguiling loopiness (or perhaps because of it), "This Is the House" failed to chart.

The follow-up single that landed two months later is even better. Entrancing and soulful, "The Walk" exudes the anxiety, drama and innovation that became Eurythmics' hallmark. The vocal arrangement is ingenious, and Dick Cuthell (known for his work with Madness, the Specials, Fun Boy Three and others) lets rip a blistering trumpet solo. As in many of their songs, "The Walk" slowly ratchets up the tension through hypnotic repetition and the gradual addition of more layers of sound until it reaches a haywire frenzy. Although a brilliant recording, "The Walk" fared no better than its predecessor.

With the duo's second album Sweet Dreams (are made of this) completed, RCA began a strong promotional push, issuing the opening track "Love Is a Stranger" as a single in November 1982. Lennox's dazzling vocal ranges from icy cool to fiery passion over a relentless electric groove bracketed by sinuous lines of synth. "Love Is a Stranger" rose to #54 in the UK, their highest placement yet, and momentum was finally building for the duo thanks in part to the single's provocative video.

The first significant chapter in a series of visually arresting promotional clips that Eurythmics generated over the span of their career, "Love Is a Stranger" showcases Lennox's dramatic presence and her innate ability to command the viewer's attention. She plays multiple roles, ending the clip with her red hair slicked back and dressed androgynously in a man's suit. Image was quickly becoming an important part of the Eurythmics' equation, with Lennox always compelling no matter which character she inhabits, and Stewart often appearing as her sort of mad-scientist counterpart.

Sweet Dreams (are made of this) hit the shelves on 4 January 1983, along with its title-track, a single that continues to reverberate through pop music nearly 35 years after its release. Suddenly everything changed for Eurythmics. An obscure British duo, barely managing to survive in the music business, soared to the top with one of the more unconventional songs ever to scale those lofty heights.

"Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" has an unusual structure, with no real verses or chorus. Lennox has described it as a mantra, and indeed it is. The lyrics, which Lennox rattled off spontaneously in a matter of minutes, are a simple but profound statement about the human condition: "Everybody's looking for something," the search for meaning and fulfillment, the ephemeral "this" of which sweet dreams are made.

Lennox begins the song with a single line of vocal, then starting with "some of them want to use you" at the 0:24 point it doubles. From there the song gradually builds intensity, with the vocals increasingly layered. A masterful finalé combines all the sonic elements before fading to black, the mantra repeating endlessly, the "this" still stubbornly undefined. The booming minor-key bass riff and the epic string-motif solo starting at 1:31 are played by Lennox on a Roland Juno-6 synthesizer. The main riff (improvised by Lennox while listening to Stewart working on a drum-machine pattern), is a simple two-bar arpeggio that loops throughout most of the song. Two parts were recorded separately and panned on opposite sides of the sound spectrum, creating a richly resonant effect. "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" is no dated relic from the early days of MTV burdened by the limitations the time. Its massive waves of synth flood out of the speakers with enormous power, as inexorably as the tide.

The music video, which became wildly popular on MTV during its heyday, is forever entwined with the song in listeners' collective consciousness. The iconic image of Lennox in her masculine suit and flaming orange flat-top helps to define the new wave era. Her forceful demeanor, nervy confidence and the subtle nuances of her facial expressions amplify the song's inherent tension. She confronts the viewer directly by pointing right in our faces at the 0:24 mark. At 1:56, she offers a sly half-smile with, "some of them want to abuse you", and at 2:15 she pounds her fist just as the song reaches its dramatic apex. Stewart appears throughout the video stoically pecking away on the drum machine he used in the recording of the song, the Movement MCS Drum Computer MK1 (except for that part where he and the cow have, well, a moment… It's all in the eye contact).

After a slow climb up the US pop chart, "Sweet Dreams (are made of this)" was finally able to derail the Police's "Every Breath You Take" from its seven-week reign at the top during the week of 3 September 1983. It would be Eurythmics' only chart-topping pop hit in America, and it reached #2 in the UK. In the wake of Eurythmics' new-found fame, "Love Is a Stranger" was re-released, this time becoming a major hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The album's deep cuts are every bit as strange and fascinating as its better-known singles. The ghostly "Jennifer" is a narcotic reverie of keyboard swells and spectral atmospherics. "I've Got an Angel" and "Somebody Told Me" are serrated neurotic fits, swerving dangerously off-the-rails from anything that would normally be considered pop music. A long and mesmerizing exploration of urban isolation, "This City Never Sleeps" is a powerful finalé. Sweet Dreams (are made of this) is an examination of the human psyche fraught with turmoil, a series of jagged recurring nightmares and anxiety attacks set to music that is soulful and experimental, melodic but eccentric, a stark electronic soundscape that bristles with horns and unexpected sonic jolts.

Next Page: Potent and Ferocious

This film suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

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Winner of the 2017 Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Rockabilly Female stakes her claim with her band on accomplished new set.

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Label: Self-released
Release Date: 2017-08-11

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