Patty Canedo is a chef in Palm Beach. She writes frequently about her kitchen exploits in this column, Half-Baked.
|Photo by Patty Canedo|
The warm aroma of pie dough could be smelled even as you walked up the driveway. The kids were waiting by the door ready to jump on anyone walking in. Barely making it past the pint size barricade, we stepped into the family room were the smell got really intense. The men of this clan were already engaged in their usual activity of lounging and news, stocks, sports chat.
"Happy Saltenas Day! Somthing smells good," I greeted my brother in law.
"Yeah, yeah. I think they are almost ready," he shooed me away from his eyeline of the T.V. I struggled into the kitchen with a child clinging from each appendage. In one quick motion, my father hugged me, abducted my husband and put an empty glass in my hand to get him a drink. I guess they were too busy to serve themselves. I performed my expected wifely duties which always amused my gringo.
The kitchen was already congested with heavy activity around the stove. As my mother and aunt brought out plates of antipastas they'd stop to blow kisses to the baby positioned on my sister's hip.
At commericial time the kitchen would be mobbed so they rushed to put things out. I watched my mother pinball from one counter to the other. I attempted to lean in for a hug but was handed a stack of plates instead. Here came the stampede of hungry, pampered men.
"So Dan, how many rules are we up too?" my husband asked my brother.
"There are rules?" Julia, his girlfriend, asked. This was her first Saltenas Day. Dan had failed to mention that while this was the best day of the year it was also the final relationship test. (The last person to fail this test way my ex-husband.) My brother explained that the origins of the Saltenas Day rules began when my sister brought home random friends to partake in our special day. I moved from the conversation to watch the first batch go into the oven. I studied my mami's every move.
"They have to go straight into the oven from the freezer or the juice will begin to melt making the dough too soft and they'll burst while they bake," she was talking to herself but I happen to overhear it.
Only about five minutes in the oven feels like forever when you wait a full year. The tantilizing aroma of warm pie dough was now accompanied by a savory, hearty scent.
Finally, the moment had arrived and the stampede shuffled around the table. The equivalent to presenting the turkey on Thanksgiving, mami proudly walked to the table (that stretched for miles) with the first plate of Saltenas. We dug in.
Taking the first bite into the soft, flaky dough the fragance of the stew inside came pillowing out. I let the juice run onto my spoon and savor the warmth of the rich, spicy broth. A bigger bite this time taking in the actual filling. Then I admired a spoonful of the red-orange filling. The tender steak, soft potatoes and peas had an intense richness from the special spice my grandmother brings my mother every year. You don't feel the intensity of it till it's in the back of your throat.
"There's a technique to eating them," my husband educates the newest at the table. "You want to get a little bit of everything in each bite." It wasn't just the spice but the melding of the different flavors inside the soft dough. As it bakes, half a Peruvian olive lends the stew it's unique seasoning. This bitterness is counter balanced by strategically placed sweet raisins. Chunks of hard boiled egg give a different texture and girth while rounding out the spice factor.
"She hand folds those things into every one?" Julia (Dan's girlfriend) examined her lunch a little closer. The stew was the most important part but then you couldn't help notice the perfect calzone style shape. Each was sealed with a hand rolled ribbon like seam on the top that was both artistic and locked in all the filling.
"They take her two days to make. That's why we only get these twice a year. Three times if we are lucky so eat up," I explained.
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Onto the usual talk of Dan's master plan, money making Saltenas shop. Everyone has a job including newbies. We sat for hours with the plate and the baby constantly making their way around the table. The kids played under the table as the bilingual story telling and laughter went on.
Happy Saltenas Day everybody!