Vaca frita (fried cow) is a traditional Cuban dish. Made of shredded beef, vaca frita is marinated overnight in lime and garlic, and pan fried with thinly sliced onions until the beef is crispy. My ex-husband would go back and forth on whether vaca frita was his favorite Cuban dish or ropa vieja (old clothes), another shredded beef dish, cooked more like a stew. As for me, they are among my two favorite Cuban comfort foods.
Just last week, my friend Maria, who share my love for Cuban culture and food, and I got to enjoy vaca frita at my favorite Cuban restaurant, Mi Cuba Café. We happily indulged in vaca frita, two mojitos and a flan as she shared photos of her recent trip to Cuba—her first since leaving the island at age six—and offered travel tips in preparation for my upcoming trip next month.
The meal that sat at the table between us was a comfort to the business that was behind us. Maria, who is the human resources director for the association where I worked was in town to inform me that my position was being eliminated. It was not exactly a surprise to me. I had begun to prepare for this day months earlier, of course it’s still not an easy thing to be told. Nor is it easy news to deliver, especially when it’s to a friend.
Months earlier, when I discussed with Maria what I expected my fate would be, I reassured her that I would be fine and that I had a plan in place. It was important for me to reassure her because I had seen how rattled she would get after delivering difficult news to others. I also reaffirmed that our friendship would be okay because I knew this was not personal but part of her job. Once we finished our conversation around the terms of my release, I got up and asked if she would join me for dinner. Relieved, she accepted immediately.
Typically, when I am depressed, sad or stressed, I lose my appetite. But as hard as the news was to receive about being cut, I am resolved to stay positive about my situation. Over the past several months, I have been working at being happy in my current situation instead of deferring my happiness until x, y and z are in place. X, y and z may never happen. Why wager my happiness on a future that may never come when I can work towards happiness now in conjunction with my life goals?
That evening, I had a healthy appetite. It was not that of a woman who would not eat because of the stressors in her life, nor was it the appetite of a woman wanting to eat away her feelings. I relished every bite of my vaca frita and my time spent with my friend. Comfort food at its best is meant to be enjoyed in the company of people who put us at ease and lift us up. I am grateful to have spent time with my friend at end of a long journey and what I hope will be a great, new beginning.
My favorite vaca frita recipe comes from Steven Raichlen’s award-winning cookbook, Miami Spice. However, I did find a comparable one on Food and Wine’s website.