The picadillo at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, a neighborhood in Tampa, Florida. That’s where it began, where the seed got planted.

I’d just turned 21. To celebrate, several friends treated me to a fancy dinner there.

And I ordered the picadillo, sided with a lime dacquiri. I think. I vaguely recall black beans, rice, and a salad. Who knows?

But I do remember that picadillo. Several years later, I ordered the same dish in San Juan, Puerto Rico, at a restaurant near the Hotel El Convento.  The hotel – then and now a world-class place – offered rooms at a fraction of the normal cost to Peace Corps volunteers training for Latin American postings.

Picadillo à Caballo (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

I cooked picadillo the other night, a calming and rewarding act. In a time of challenges, it behooves all of us to seek such acts, in order to gear up, to replenish energies, to keep on going.

*Note: “El Período Especial” refers to the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, beginning in 1991 and lasting until nearly the year 2000, when Vladimir Putin extended a helping hand. My application of this period to the current situation in the United States is not meant to be dismissive of the suffering experienced by the Cuban people. Rather, I am referring to another type of suffering, both mental and physical, endured by many people now living in the United States. See this article for more about the preservation of Cuban cuisine in the united States.

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