A sponge cake waits on the kitchen counter. Several candles are lit and the flames flicker in front of kids eager to blow them out. My grandfather starts his song. We shout along.
“Ya queremos pastel. Aunque sea un pedacito, ya queremos pastel."
A dessert lover's rendition of the happy birthday song, "We want cake. Even if it's just a little piece, we want cake now." Everyone from Miami knows this song. Sometimes my abuelito started the song before the cake was even brought to the table. He couldn't wait for a piece. Or two.
He kept a blue tin of Danish butter cookies permanently parked on top of the fridge. Mini candy bars were in the hallway closet. To his delight, my sister and I baked him pineapple upside down cakes.
His sweet tooth runs deep in this family. My mother is a fanatic for chocolate of any kind and is not to be trusted with unattended desserts. My sister bakes brownies and banana bread nearly every weekend. Lila, the little one, will take any and all candy.
Through my education in sweets, I was well-versed in cake, flan, tres leches, cacao (a Nicaraguan drink that is the best version of chocolate milk) and Oreos dipped in peanut butter, but my knowledge was lacking in one particular subject: pie.
Sure, we had key lime, but it ends there. I did not grow up knowing the pleasure of breaking through flaky layers of buttery crust and into jammy fruit. A pastelito de guayaba is not quite the same as a slice of cherry pie.
But now I've moved out of my mother's kitchen and into my own with a guy whose grandmother made pie every weekend. I learned how to roll out this dough and we've since made pie and several of its cousins, including galettes and quiches.
Chicken pot pie is my latest love. I serve it up slab-style in a large baking dish that goes straight from the oven to the table. It's comfort food with an unbelievably flaky top layer right at home in February. The filling reminds me of chicken soup but it has been thickened with flour and enriched with cream. The vegetables for the filling can be tweaked according to what you have or what you like, but either way I wouldn't be surprised if after one bite you find yourself singing a little song, "We want chicken pot pie. Even if it's just a little piece, we want chicken pot pie."
Ileana Morales is a writer who cooks in a small apartment kitchen in Tampa with boyfriend Danny Valentine, an education reporter for the Tampa Bay Times. For more of their kitchen adventures, visit Ileana's blog, alittlesaffron.com. She can be reached at [email protected]