Croquetas!!

It has been a few years since I had this idea about finding the best Cuban style “croquetas” (pronounced crow-keah-taas). What are croquetas? Well technically, they are originally from Spain, they are simply, put fritters. Typically, they are prepared with a béchamel base and with added meat that is then chilled and formed into cylindrical patties, which are coated in egg wash, breadcrumbs, and fried until crispy and golden on the outside.

In my Cuban household growing up in Mountainside, NJ, USA, these were only prepared for special occasions because they are time-consuming to make. My immediate family which consisted of my grandparents, my parents, myself and my five siblings would devour them so quickly that I often felt sorry for my Abuela Concha and my mom. They would spend the entire evening before any special occasion preparing them, knowing that as the most popular item on the menu, they would have to fight off the children who would try to swipe them before they made it to the dinner table.

Somehow, in the small Cape Cod home we lived in, they still managed to hide them from the kids. There were times my parents would have company, then like magic, croquetas would appear on a silver platter. At these events, we were not allowed near the festivities. For two simple reasons. One, so that the adults could have real conversations instead of always having us about. But we were still allowed nearby as long as we kept silent. Once we began interfering, we would be sent off to bed. The second, of course, that we may swipe the appetizers that were prepared for the guests, mainly the croquetas.

As the years progressed, there would be times we would just buy them in Elizabeth, NJ at Mara Bakery, a Cuban bake shop. I recall those visits like it was yesterday. That is where we would get “pasteles de guayaba” (guava pastry) and drink a malta (a sweet malt beverage) while we waited for our order to be boxed up. Sometimes, my dad would want to go early, so we could hang out and eat Cuban sandwiches and desert and then go home with the order.

The smells of the food and listening to all the Cubans chattering away are some of my fondest memories of my childhood.

Now in my later years, I happen to be married to a beautiful woman who grew up in Cuba. I never realized how Cuban I was until now. Growing up here, in the USA, you can say I am as American as apple pie, but my soul is distinctly Cuban as I have found out and have embraced in these recent years. The humor, the camaraderie and the sadness of a paradise lost are what unite us all outside of the island, and it is what has us praying and helping those still living under the dictatorship in current times.

Getting back to the point, Croquetas! This is one thing that is important to me and should be at every Cuban restaurant. Sadly, many Cuban restaurants don’t even know how to make them, and buy them made offsite. I have compiled a list of 10 random Cuban eateries that serve croquetas on or near Bergenline Avenue in Hudson County that I have tasted. I ordered only ham croquetas, first because they are my favorite and second so that they can be compared on the same scale.

Below is my list with a rating system from 1 to 10, with 10 being the best. Sadly, I can not give any a 10.

  1. Las Americas, Union City (8.5)
  2. Rumba Cubana, Guttenberg (8.5)
  3. Centro Latino, West New York (8)
  4. Las Chicas, North Bergen (8)
  5. Gilberto’s, North Bergen (7.5)
  6. Las Palmas, West New York (8.5)
  7. Pio Pio, West New York (4) (possibly a recipe from the “Período especial”)
  8. Havana on the Hudson Cafe, West New York (1)*
  9. La Tinajita, West New York (7)
  10. Cortaditos, Union City (1)*

Please take note, I am only rating the Ham Croquetas. I am not rating the restaurant overall. For instance, on the bottom of the list is Cortaditos, meanwhile I love the Café which is great, except for their croquetas which I pray someday soon they will discover another provider or recipe.

*by the way, the two starred I believe order the mix or croquetas from the same vendor as they have the same distinctly odd flavor, and it is not ham.

What is Love?

(written in 2006)

I recently went on a one-day retreat run by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The title for this event, which they usually run twice a year, is called “Catholic Men’s Day of Prayer”. This specific retreat had as its focus Fatherhood.

Fatherhood is a large topic but one of the topics we touched upon was the relationship with our spouses. It was during these conversations that many discussions were shared that opened my eyes to a widely known fact that is in most part ignored in our current society.

We currently live in a society that worships to an extreme individualism and materialism. It seems to be the focus of everyone to be independent, to have their own things etc. However, in a loving community this kind of attitude is actually hurtful and dangerous. It leads to anger, envy and greed. This selfish focus is not how we were created. Man is a social creature, and we need each other to survive and to create a healthy and happy environment for all.

When discussing these issues it became apparent, as usual, that our catholic faith stands in stark contrast to what is promoted by our society. In the early church Christians gave up all their material possessions to join the community. This, of course, is not required of us now but that is because we have a different world economy altogether. But what is required of us is that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

It sounds so nice: love your neighbor as yourself. However it is difficult as we will know. However what makes it even more difficult is our understanding of the word Love. The dictionary has it as follows: 1 a (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties <maternal love for a child> (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests <love for his old schoolmates> b : an assurance of love <give her my love> This is the primary view of the understanding and use of the word in our society.

The problem lies in that our Lord asks us to do another kind of love. This love is an action word. It is something we do and not something we feel. It is a command as Christians that we are under strict orders to comply. We must love all as our neighbors. Not the soft weak mushy stuff that we are constantly sold but the tough hard love. The kind of love that tells a child no, cares for a sick person and bites its tongue not to say something hurtful. This world would be a much better place if all persons understood this.

One priest told a story that he was speaking to a man who said to him “Father, I don’t love my wife anymore” He looked at this man and said to him “Well, love your wife.” The man looked at him and was confused. He didn’t understand and simply put it is because he thought it was a feeling and not an act. There is one big prerequisite to be able to do this. We must die to ourselves. We must kill that selfish part of us and do what we are asked to do all the days of our lives. Look up to the greatest act of love ever done in the history of the world, our Lord giving his life for us on the cross. Then take up our cross.

If we can achieve this our lives will come together and bring us great joy. We will be able to put our wives and families first and our marriages will be happy and lifelong. We will put others always before ourselves and then the rewards will be great here, and they will be even greater in heaven.

Eternal Metals

What are these things?
Yellow and white
They make light glimmer
Bring out the bright
Of what is in sight

There are metals
Of all sorts
But in comparison
To this group
It is no sport

Others don’t have that shine
Others can’t bring the time
That makes the good
Sweet as the finest Wine

A special night
A gift at dinner
A pearl wrapped
In any will be a winner

A painting
Of the finest sort
Is that much greater
When it’s framed
In the precious drawn from ore

Glory of God
The world wants to extol
It’s got to be Silver
Platinum or Gold

From the ancient world
To modern times
These illustrious metals
Bring out the rhymes

The precious coins of
Rome, Egypt and Greece
Empires of Spain
And Great Britain
Not the least
Tell the stories of Love and War
Sometimes peace
All wrapped up in the Golden Fleece

The rapper wears
A rather large one
Round his neck
A sister prays a golden rosary
At a sick man’s
Death bed

Many more uses
You can see
But the most precious
That shines like the sun
Eternally done
Is the one that makes
You and me, we

The precious metal
Pulled, Shaped
And twisting
Going round a finger
Always existing

But the tragedy lies
In that Humans
Do not see
The greatest Gift of all
Is actually free

Love is the thing
We should all be expounding
If we all share the gold
The world would be astounding

As happiness would reign from shore to shore
The precious metals
Hence be a symbol of Love
Like a rose petal
A seed of friendship forevermore

*Written for the IPMI 2010

 The New Old Evangelization

(Originally written in 2011)

The Catholic faith is constantly under attack, not only by those directly opposed to the faith but by Christians as well. Our stance against abortion and contraception, sexual promiscuity of any form and also for tenants of the faith are examples of issue which seem to be stumbling blocks. But we Catholics understand the truths handed down to us from the apostles through the church and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We know these to be truth and with our eyes set on the things not seen we focus on the eternal. To gain the eternal, we must live a fruitful life through witness to the gospel in this world.

However we have a real problem here. The issue is that we have two types of horrible Catholics both in and out of the clergy. So many hypocrites exist but the biggest problem I fear are twofold, The disconnect that is often between the actions of our authorities within the church and what is preached and taught.

We often have Bishops and or priests that when the secular public makes a scene about the teachings of the faith they back track. In one instance in the Diocese of San Diego a Bishop twice back tracked when they denied a Christian funeral for two non-practicing catholic homosexual that owned gay bars. It has always been understood and is canon law that anyone who lived in obvious sin without any signs of repentance cannot receive a Christian funeral. But when they tried to enforce this rule public opinion and condemnation swayed the Catholic authority.

The attempt to prevent scandal in actuality created a double scandal. Not only did know they allow it, which then sent the message that it is ok to live in Sin. However then they also affirm that church teaching is essentially meaningless. If they are willing to back down to popularity, then they have lost all authority to teach. They have condemned themselves because these actions will certainly drive others to sin instead of show them the truths of the faith.

Had the Bishops stood up and in a loving manner explained the teachings of the faith and why the funerals would not be allowed it would have sent a signal that we stand for the truth. Now it appears to others that we stand for nothing that could not be changed with a popularity contest. I cringe when I see these types of reports; this is more hurtful to the conversion of souls than the actual sins perpetrated by others within our midst.

Another issue is those within our midst that do not live the Gospel but want to hit others over the head with our teachings.  What I mean is that we cannot change the hearts of others by attacking them with the truths or condemning their actions. So, often I see many people get into arguments instead of dialogue. To dialogue you need to have a loving respect for the other person. It is only through love that we will ever change the hearts of this society.

Recently, I have had a change of view about a serious issue. I may be wrong but the whole gay marriage issue I think is overblown. The civil form of marriage has little value in my eyes. I never thought highly about it when I got married, and I think less about it now. When we fight those trying to propagate this highly political issue we give these people a stage to call us all kinds of names like hate mongers and the like. Meanwhile the courts grant divorces at the drop of a hat. The fact that marriage is a business transaction in most cases should be made apparent. So, it is meaningless.

I believe we should drop this fight and instead focus on teaching within our own church the proper meaning and understanding of marriage.  But when we talk of marriage in the Catholic Church we speak about two people, a man and a woman, who join together in a complete natural union created by God that will bring the gift of life, which is children, if God wills it. Marriage is a gift of love which is a gift that comes from God. That way we understand and become open to life. At this time unfortunately most Catholics are not. It is that mentality that allows people to accept contraception and abortion since we think we are the arbiters of life and not God himself.

But the point I am trying to get at it is this. We need to focus on our own household. We have to build the proper supports and understanding that will lead to a life of living the gospel and the teachings of our faith in everything we do and say. That is how the church was born. That is how the church grew. It was by giving and loving and not by arguing with others. When others see the joy we have within our communities and in the way we live our lives and that we are faithful then they will join us. Then their hardened hearts will change. But when you look around at how poorly we are behaving it is no wonder that few truly believe that we have a real and vibrant faith.

We must turn our faith into one of love for our Church community but also for love of all outside our church as well. Even the sinners need our love. How will we save souls as God has asked us to do if we do not show them love? It will be by loving the world that we can affect the most change not by entering into political arguments or popularity contests. Hence it is the old way of evangelization that becomes new again.

As Saint Francis was quoted as saying, so we must live “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

On Doubt

Life is a difficult journey. Even more difficult than everyday life is the ability to maintain our faith. Over the years I have, lets’ say, been in and out of my faith. As a youngster, it was out of ignorance. As an adult, it was mostly due to complacency. Then as I grew older, it has been through temptation. It would be so easy to forget the faith and just roll along with what our society wants us to accept.

The times I have been tempted to forget our faith as if our Lord never existed are many. To turn my back on God is the biggest sin I can commit. Isn’t that what we do every time we fail to live the gospel? Every little sin is a step away from God.

By committing any sin knowing full well that it is against the wishes and demands of our faith, we are turning away from Jesus.  Jesus is still there for us, always waiting. All we need to do is ask forgiveness and turn back to him and the teachings of the church.

Wait, it isn’t that easy. Satan and his tempters are always close by to show you the easier, better path.  They are also there to point out to you how ridiculous and unbelievable our faith is. That the gospel we hear was contrived, and his followers were nothing more than propagandists.

The logical and austere mind easily succumbs to such diatribe. Even the most faithful are weakened at the knees by the argument. How can this be true? Is this all a farce to keep simple folk under control? It would make my life easier to cast it all off and do as I will.

These arguments are tempting and have some truth. But it is the truth turned inside out. Yes, life may appear to be easier if we cast it off, but it would be devoid of love and life. Yes, it is an unbelievable story, but it is true and holds the answers to our purpose and future. It is the Gospel that holds the key to the understanding of life here on earth and the one to come.

Even knowing and accepting this, I became like the wicked asking for a sign. But no sign shall be given. Why won’t any sign be given? Simply put, God does not serve us. He has given us his words and prophets that we may listen to them. Why should he give us more signs?

With that in mind, I began to ponder. Several times I was close to the precipice of despair. My soul felt thirsty and dry. I was drowning in the mire of confusion that the world offered. I finally focused on prayer and asked for the wisdom to see.

Then one day, as if an angel came to me and whispered in my ear, it came to me. It was with me all along. The Gospel stories and those of the apostles are so unbelievable! Their teachings, depth of meaning and love so intertwined that I cannot believe that any men even if they had a thousand years could have written this story.

The reason became suddenly obvious. The word, the teachings and the church are the sign we will be given. They are the contradiction against the society. It is obvious it was not built, written or designed by men. These things all point to the existence of God and the truth of His Son Jesus Christ and the mystery of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing Hollywood has or ever will come up with can rival the depth of the Gospel story. None is as incredible. But what convinced me was that it is certainly not the handiwork of mankind.

I do believe in one God, the Father Almighty, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Sure, it sounds crazy, but the simple fact that I know it makes me all the more certain.

The Mad Hatter


Overslept a bit
This morn
The beeping alarm
Laughed with scorn

I rose and
Went about my day
From my routine
I did not stray

Upon arriving
In the city
I walked, stammered
It wasn’t pretty

Worse than that
Was the sight
Of a strange cat
At a bizarre height

A man walked
With a strange gait
I looked up to see
What caused this fate

Not believing
What I saw
A cat perched upon his head
A shocking awe

I slapped myself
It was no dream
No drama needed
No need to scream

Truly pointless
Is this matter
A rhyme
That’s all
For this Mad Hatter!

Pregnancy is a Gift, It is Human Life Not a Disease!

The Truth Revealed

In general, our society has become one of quick fixes and denial. We deny responsibility for almost everything, we have people suing others for things they do to themselves. People always decry that they are suffering because of others and not because of their own actions or inaction. It seems to me that whoever cries or screams the loudest gets the most attention and action whether they are in the right or not. The individual seems to lose more and more responsibility and becomes less and less important at the same time.

There is no real logic or reason. The people are so conditioned not to use their brains, not to analyze. Simply put they are for the most part conditioned not to look for the truth. Truth has become relative but not because the people believe in relativity it is because they are being trained to live life in relativity. But there is still a chance for this tide to be turned if we ourselves live life by truth.

Quo ist veritas? What is Truth? That is what we need to train our children to seek. They need to weigh all components and listen with both heart and mind. If they do so it will be apparent what is truth.

The biggest competition though is the constant barrage of images from the major media outlets. Whether it is music, movies, television or the internet our society just never take the time to think it is all set to keep you off guard. To be able to seek truth you have to remove yourself from a situation and look at it objectively. In general, our society does not do that and in fact it just promotes the acceptance of a status quo of where we are. It also promotes the idea that someone else will solve your problems. This is the reason, the basic truths of life are not understood.

I believe it is astonishing that two plus two still equals five. In a society where it is constantly promotes the false concept of “Gay Marriage”. This lie that is being perpetuated and successfully so is a great example. Everyone knows that there is no physical way that two people of the same gender can be joined together to procreate. But yet, we have sane men and women supporting these people so that they can feel accepted. The truth is they want us to make a lie a truth.

Under the same guise in the business community from which the world suffered in the economic collapse of 2008 they managed to perpetuate a lie. The lie was one of earnings, with no real production or growth. Products that did nothing but hide truths, such as Sub-prime lenders that lent money creating false growth to people or businesses that do not have the ability to pay. Notice just like gay marriage a lie twisted to appear true for the incipient purpose of the persons who benefit. In this case, the brokers and others involved made off with billions of dollars.

Then finally and the saddest of all is the twisting of the truth of life. There is only one point at which Human Life is created. The point at which Human Life is created is called conception at that point a Human Being exists and is growing totally independent of the mother who carries that baby and feeds it from her body. We know by the science that at that exact moment a new DNA has been created and a new person exists.

But instead we have an abortion industry, originally promoted in the USA by Planned Parenthood to control the growth of the undesirable population of minorities, is perpetuating the lie that it is not a baby, that it is not human life and that it is something else. They purport it to be a disease, a mistake not anybody’s fault. This is simply a lie they propose as a truth. Sadly, it feeds on the irresponsibility built into the society these days that enables the individuals not to accept responsibility for their choices and at the same time not look for the truth because it may not be convenient at that time.

The truth is that pregnancy is a gift it is a human life. One that will continually change anyone’s life for the better even if the baby is infirm. I have seen many blessings brought to families with children with disabilities, but our society does not like to see this truth either.

Another lie being purported as a truth is that abortionists are pro-choice. Their goal is to kill as many children as possible because that is how they make their money. The only real group that is Pro-Choice are the Pro-Life advocates which believe that the choice is actually before conception. The true choice is whether one should or should not have sexual intercourse with someone to create a child which is the act’s primary function. To propagate that we humans are not in control of ourselves is an insult to our intelligence. The solution to a mistake is not another mistake. Yet, that is the lie that is constantly promoted. The problem lies in that there is big money in contraception and abortion and that is why this lie has such a great rate of success. The solution lies in teaching our children the truth because we know that unfortunately neither school systems Public nor Catholic can be trusted.

So, this leads to the point of the most heinous of crimes attempted in this country. The Freedom of Choice Act, which thankfully never passed, was not about choice but about murder. It is the freedom to kill act. Any society that kills their own children is not far from killing anyone for any reason. Acts such as these should be fought with a passion by all people of good will.

From an article, I read recently at a pro-life rally in front of a church a pro-abortion woman tried to chase the children who were there away. The children replied that they would stay. Then one of the young boys asked no one in particular, “What’s the matter with her? Everyone knows that abortion is murder.” It was a simple truth.

Now if only everyone would stick to the truth life would be much easier for everyone.