deb on food

I love to eat. And food is one of my favorite topics of discourse. While I enjoy chatting about Annie Proulx’ novels, the nesting habits of North American birds, and James Bond movies, I relish (my verb betrays me) talking and writing about food. Sushi, chili dogs, Kalamata olives, the perfect guacamole, Underwood deviled ham, exotic cheese, marzipan, Southern barbeque, reed thin fresh asparagus - I rhapsodize about it all. My fork. My pen. My passion.

ON APRIL ... Blame it on Miami, my enchantment with the mojito. I was perfectly content with the cosmopolitan, a blend of vodka, cointreau, and cranberry juice made wildly popular by the HBO series Sex and the City. But, then, about five years ago, I traveled to Miami and, after a South Beach mojito crawl, I returned home a changed woman. I rediscovered the pleasures of Hemingway's spare prose. I bought a Che Guevara t-shirt. And, the refreshingly crisp mojito supplanted the cosmopolitan as my libation of choice.

If you haven't met the mojito, allow me to introduce you. Satisfying as a tall glass of lemonade on a sultry summer day, the mojito is a light, bracing mixture of mint, lime, sugar, rum, club soda, and ice. Indeed, the signature drink of Miami and the latest cocktail to be ballyhoed by hipsters across the nation, from Annapolis to Zanesville. The mojito is a Cuban concoction, which explains its ubiquitousness in Miami - a city in which Latinos comprise 66 percent of the population.

I had my first Miami mojito in a beachfront dive at a corner sidewalk table, the perfect vantage point for observing all the wonders and curiosities of South Beach. My junket culminated with a fabulous blended variation, light green like the grasshoppers my grandmother sipped when I was a child. I was hooked. But when I exuberantly embraced the mojito, I had no idea the rest of the nation was right on my heels.

Over the past few years, I've enjoyed mojitos in the most unlikely of places, including the Park Hotel in New Delhi, India. A classic version made with chunks of rock sugar that clattered up the straw with every sip. I've not had a mojito in Cuba, the motherland of mojitos, but I did run away for a weekend a few springs ago to immerse myself in the rum culture of Puerto Rico. More specifically, to Catano, the Puerto Rican home of Bacardi, the world's largest privately held spirits company. And, boy oh boy, did I have a mojito ... or two ... or seven ...

Ponder with me, dear reader, the great pilgrimages of faith. The Ancient Greeks traveled huge distances to seek counsel at the oracle of Delphi. The Incans journeyed to the sacred city of Machu Picchu. And, the sick and ailing travel to Lourdes in search of divine reversal of their misfortune. Mojito drinkers, we have Casa Bacardi, the hallowed shrine of rum, a $7 million, 17,000 square foot visitors center located just outside San Juan on the campus of the Bacardi distillery, the world's largest premium rum manufacturing facility.

Even by my bon vivant standards, this Caribbean jaunt was a whirlwind trip. Late night arrival on Friday and a 5am wake up call on Sunday - leaving less than 36 hours in Puerto Rico to pay my homage to Bacardi and to sample mojitos in the heart of Old San Juan. Let's just say I did just fine - only because I had a driver and knew I had to report to my 'day' job at 8am on Monday. I left San Juan with only the slightest of hangovers (what that's expression? God looks after drunks and fools?) and an enduring appreciation for the mojito - my hands down choice for the most refreshing cocktail of the season.

Happy spring, friends. And cheers.