Tuesday, December 16

Things Fall Apart

I don't mean that in the tragic Chinua Achebe way or in a more minor you're running late, fall on some ice, rip your pants, and everything makes you want to cry way either. I'm thinking of a gentle unwinding, a decrease of items on your "to-do" list. The satisfaction of things becoming simpler, like sloughing off dead skin or a cookie crumbling as you dunk it in hot chocolate. These are the disintegrations I have in mind.

My stomach also has a specific idea of things falling apart. It is specifically thinking of my mom's recipe for a pork roast slow-cooked in soy sauce, herbs, and garlic that gently loosens and makes delicious meat-heap sandwiches. With my normal eloquence and flowery language I've dubbed this salty, herby, tender mess "crock-pot meat."

As things in Mexico fall apart (exams, grades, moving, packing, dressing as a cowgirl for a Christmas parade and riding on a skittish horse in skirt. . .) and I move closer to my vacation in Iowa (Tomorrow! Tomorrow!!!), I've been thinking of crock-pot meat. My mom has exerted all effort (conscious or not) to reinforce my association of this recipe with coming home. My first trip home after going away to college: crock-pot meat. Trips back to Iowa from Louisville: crock-pot meat. Coming home for Christmas after moving far away to Mexico: crock-pot meat? :)

Even if you don't have a daughter you want to welcome home to below-freezing temperatures from a warm, distant land (ahem), pick up a roast, throw a few things together, let it do its thing. Very little effort, but a bit of foresight since it takes 8-10 hours, will supply a simple hearty meal that is very appealing amidst all the elaborate holiday fare. Don't be daunted by making a whole pork (or beef) roast either. It keeps well, either in the fridge or freezer and is equally delicious when reheated.

Crock-Pot Meat

3-4 lb beef or pork roast
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 cup soy sauce
bay leaves
3 cloves garlic
1 Tbl thyme
1 Tbl rosemary
Cook on low in crock pot 8-10 hours*

* Think of all the things you can accomplish in this span of time while the meat is gently falling apart and soaking up that salty goodness.

I'm hoping to put up some photos and recipes as I nosh through the holiday season, but it is possible that it may be delayed until the New Year. If that is the case, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!! I hope everyone has safe travels and delicious stuff to look forward too. Feliz Navidad!

Tuesday, December 9

Joyce to the World

This week is hectic already and is only going to become more so as we progress. I'm scattered, tired, a wee bit stressed, and a whoa bit caffeinated. I was trying to think of something I'd eaten or made that I wanted to write about, but my thoughts kept deteriorating into a manic stream of consciousness. . . .egg and bacon sandwiches were good no no too much about breakfast its tiresome tired need another cup of coffee someone just finished it off and I can't believe how #$#%#$ weird crazies in the office I just want to go home and stuff myself with sushi and mulligatawny myself how do you explain reflexive pronouns to students when they don't understand possessive adjectives or even subject pronouns I can't wait until exams are finished Ill sit by the fire and use the oven to make cookies I'm awfully tired I wish I had a blanket and an obese family-sized jar of Nutella under my desk I don't want to go sign my new lease today and go to the bank those lousy financial bastards then Im going to need to pack up all my stuff not tonight Im having Spanish practice with allison maybe we'll go to Meet I could eat their fajitas again those were so good. . . .
See how exhausting that is? Ugh. You have my old roommate, Roxie, to thank for this venture, since we were just reminiscing about how she subjected me to the book on tape version of Ulysses back in college. Yes, it was as gross as it sounds.
My exam prepping, stressing, and giving, moving, and hopefully general tenseness of the body should all be over by this weekend. So next week I will hopefully have a less Joycean blog and return the simple joys and delights of stomach and kitchen with plenty of superlative descriptions. Which reminds me, I have some superlatives and comparatives to pound into youths heads. . . . please excuse me

Wednesday, December 3

Leftover Thanks

O.K. Thanksgiving is done. But one of the best parts is still leftover. . . .get it?

I feel like "leftovers" isn't an adequate term. I mean it is what it is, but it sounds so blah. Truthfully, they can be, but I'm thinking of the glory of Thanksgiving leftovers. I want a word that encapsulates the mashed potatoes that are reinvented with sour cream and cheddar or those delicious scraps of turkey transformed into the most glorious of sandwiches.

Ahh sandwiches. Sandwiches are the pinnacle of all that is delicious and simple for me. I want a holiday where the traditional food is sandwiches. All different types of sandwiches. Everyone has to make up a new sandwich and bring it. Or everyone brings separate pieces and the holiday is spent concocting new and delicious sandwich combinations.

Until I've fully developed that holiday, however, the tradition of Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches is the closest I've got. They are also the pinnacle of reinventing leftovers. A few simple steps, a few quality items, a few scraps of the demolished turkey and you have a phoenix rising from the ashes, but better, because it's a sandwich.

I didn't have leftover turkey this year, but my spicy chickens from across the street endured a late night plucking and supplied a sturdy foundation for a couple sandwichings.

So, if you still have a few scraps of that turkey around, or tucked some away in the freezer, get it out. I've concocted a recipe to mimic my sandwich de las sobras. Don't have your sandwich be a thoughtless, half-hearted jumble. Give the sandwich its due attention. It deserves our thoughts, our respect, our thanks.

makes 4 sandwiches
I was so thrilled with these sandwiches, I double-blogged today in hopes that I would catch you with some turkey scraps searching for meaning in this crazy world. . . .

3 C of cooked shredded turkey (or chicken)
2 Tbsp olive oil
5 Tbsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
4 crusty rolls
4 oz Manchego cheese, 8 slices
2 C shredded green cabbage
1/2 C fresh cilantro
2 Roma tomatoes, sliced
mayonnaise (if desired)

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium-low heat. Add turkey or chicken and toss to lightly coat with olive oil. Sprinkle with paprika and cayenne. Cook until thoroughly heated. Halve rolls and lightly toast. Place two slices of Manchego on bottom half of each roll. On each roll, top cheese with 3/4 C of the warm turkey. Toss the cabbage and cilantro together and divide between the sandwiches. Place several tomato slices on cabbage. Lightly spread mayonnaise on top half of roll. Place top half on to the tomatoes. Satisfy.

The Non-traditional Tradition

Thanksgiving has become a weird holiday for me. It used to always involve going to the lodge at Camp Wakonda with my extended family, avoiding relatives that I rarely saw with my siblings and first cousins, trying to stuff as many of my Grandma's butterhorns down my throat as humanly possible, hiking back to a cave to look for the gold of Jesse James, and playing the loudest most ridiculous games of Pit. It was pretty fantastic.

Recent years, however, I have not made it back for this tradition. In college, I worked at a clothing store and had to be present for Black Friday, I took the opportunity of a week off and went to Barcelona with my friend Katie, I studied abroad in Greece, and my traditional Thanksgivings were replaced by hordes of shoppers and The Mediterranean.

Post-college I found out what a rarity it is to have a week off for Thanksgiving. Due to distance and time constraints, the family gathering was out yet again. Several of my friends from college were in a similar situation, so we formed our own little Thanksgiving. One year in Chicago was hosted by my friends Jeff and Jake and catered wonderfully by my friend Katie, whose previous cooking experience consisted of almost setting our apartment on fire making patatas bravas for her Spanish class. Heaped with wine, Katie's grade school songs, and video confessionals of our doubts of the chef's abilities, we had a fantastic holiday--no fires, delicious food.

Last year, the four of us reunited in Louisville and were joined by my friends Madhu and Emily. Traditional fare, an abundance of wine, multiple games of Celebrity (with Madhu consistently ignoring the rules), karaoke, and horse racing dominated the holiday. Thoroughly lovely, maybe excluding the wine-dreidel-drinking game we devised in a fit of ill-conceived creativity.

My tradition has become doing something nontraditional. Luckily, this is much easier than keeping with tradition.

Most traditional Thanksgiving elements were out this year, because of the oven-absence and limited time. These limitations didn't hinder me. I'm not one to skip celebrating a holiday, even if the outcome has minimal resemblance to general associations.

Chili-rubbed, roasted chickens were procured, partially for their resemblance to a turkey, but in larger part because the smell and sight of these crimson fowl roasting across the street from my apartment had been tormenting me for weeks. Also, the friendly proprietress agreed to have them warm and waiting for us when we returned from work. And people say Thanksgiving preparations are stressful. Pshaw.
The birds were fetched, some rice was sent along, a vat of my potato soup was prepared, carrots and squash were sautéed, and our lovely compañera, Flor, brought lovely, golden flan for dessert. To round out the Oaxacan and Mexican elements, mezcal and tequila were abundantly supplied.
There was feasting, there was music, there was a general fowl and potato induced ebullience. It was thoroughly delicious. And while I miss my old traditions, family, and friends, I am very thankful for non-traditions, new friends, and to be in Mexico. (I was avoiding turning mawkish as long as possible, I swear, but I find it is inevitable when talking of Thanksgiving.)

Wednesday, November 26

Soup and Sniffles

My boohooing the absence of Midwest seasons is over. Completely. It is 45 degrees (according to TWC) at my parents house today (feels like 35). Here, it is 70 and I'm wearing a sweater and scarf. I mean, I've always been a weenie when it comes to the cold, but this is a little much. I can even recognize that. In my defense, the locals are wearing parkas and stocking caps in the evenings. I'm starting to have panicky knots in my stomach about what 30 degrees is going to feel like in a couple of weeks. That's probably even being a bit optimistic that it will be 30 degrees. I'm consoled by the idea of my parents' fireplace, a functioning oven, and the fact that I'm planning on eating my weight in Christmas goodies, Indian, Thai, Korean, and Japanese food every single day.
My point, however, was that this past week has felt really cold. I know this probably doesn't garner much sympathy since I just said it was 70, but it has. Mwweh (that's the noise I always imagine my voice sounding like when I'm being very whiny). I also had a nasty cold that won't go away. (another Mwweeeh). Between my morgue of an apartment and the incessant whistling and rattling of failed nasal breathing, I discovered a desire to make soup. I probably can't even claim to have discovered a desire. A frigid apartment and nasal maladies are pretty much signs that soup is hunting me down.
Soup appealing to me was the glimmer in my sad mucousy week (did I mention my 16 year old dog died too? It really was a pitiful stretch). I love making soup. It has a tendency to always be exactly what you need. I can't think of another food that is quite as comforting and necessary in sad, sick times. It is one of the easiest things to mess around with, without fear of losing the delicious. No real planning and gathering the correct ingredients necessary. Look in your fridge and around your kitchen and you should be able to whip up something warm, smooth, and satisfying. Also, a delicious meal that can be cooked in a single saucepan satisfies my minimal-dish-usage quota (which gets even more strict when I'm ill). Up until last week, though, making soup in Mexico hadn't occurred to me. Not once. But now, a chill in the air and snot in my nose has put it back in my repertoire.
Potatoes were the dominant vegetable at hand, so potato soup it was. Nice timing too, since I started making creamy potato soups about a year ago, when my friends came to Louisville for Thanksgiving. Potato soup in bread bowls and K Cider was the welcoming meal I made in a fit of nostalgia, replicating one of our favorite meals in college. My potato soup impressed me so much, that throughout the winter, I regularly made large pots of it, varying it each time depending on what was around. So convenience and a double dose of nostalgia made this recipe, feel free to throw in some bacon, broccoli, celery, cheese, or any delicious random thing that you have lying around. Well, maybe not Krispy Kremes, save those for dessert. That would be the ultimate body and soul soothing meal, fit for the sick or wallowing.

Creamy Potato Soup
6 tablespoons of butter
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 dried chiles de arbol*, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound of potatoes, cubed
12 C chicken stock
2 C of carrots, sliced
2 C of zucchini, chopped
3 C milk
black pepper

Melt 4 Tbsp of butter in a large heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic, onion, and chiles. Simmer over low heat for about two minutes (make sure to keep it low so the butter doesn't burn) or until onions are translucent. Add potatoes and remaining butter. Cook for 3 minutes more over low heat. Stir to keep vegetables from burning. Add chicken stock and raise to medium-high heat.** Cover and cook until potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. When potatoes are tender, add carrots and zuccini. Cook 5 minutes. Ladle about 4 cups of vegetables and liquid into a blender (it should be heavy on the potatoes). Puree. Return to saucepan. Reduce heat to low. Add milk. Cook until thoroughly heated or desired thickness (if you want a really thick soup you can puree more potatoes). Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with some crusty bread and white cheddar. Maybe crumble some bacon on top. Oooh yeah, bacon. Oh! And have a Happy Thanksgiving, mis estadounidenses. Safe travels! Safe gorging!

*These bitches are HOT. If you aren't a spice-monger, you may want to hold off or cut back.
Also, if you crush them by hand, don't touch your eyes for like a day. It BURNS!!!!
** This is a more expedient method, but feel free to cook over low heat for an extended period, just as long as the potatoes get cooked, it's all good.

Friday, November 21

Oscar's Grocery

"Oh man, I'm soooo hungry."
"Me too. Let's get something to eat."
"Hmm. I'll go anywhere, but not Oscar's Grocery."
"Eww no. It looks sooo gross. I heard they had fingernails in their bread."
"Whoa. I heard they had boogers in their soup."
"Egh. Oh no! It looks like everything but Oscar's is closed!"
"Oh man, I'm SO hungry! What are we going to do?"
"I guess we'll have to go to Oscar's."
"Oh gross. I guess I'll get a cinnamon roll. I hope there aren't any fingernails. . ."
"Me too. Well here we go."
"Hey. . . .this is. . . .really good!"
"Oh my gosh. This is the best cinnamon roll I've ever tasted!"

The enchanting dialogue you have just read is a rough recreation of a game my siblings and I used to play entitled: Oscar's Grocery. We would use this role-play whenever we would have a stick of gum. We would roll the stick up so it looked like a cinnamon roll and go through all the steps until we were forced to acquiesce and buy food from Oscar's. Then we would timidly bite into our "cinnamon roll" and let the surprised delight and praise for this ill-reputed grocery spring forth. I know what you're thinking. The answer is yes. Yes, we were home-schooled.
I've always had the same Oscar's Grocery attitude towards banana-flavored things. Not with such a level of disgust that we held for Oscar's, but why would I pick banana when there were other possibilities? I like bananas and banana bread, but beyond that banana just always seemed like such a blah option to me when there are things like peaches, melons, and berries.
Over the weekend, Matthew, Allison, and I headed to the Lagunas de Chacahua. On our way we stopped for breakfast in Puerto Escondido. The restaurant had a tantalizing list of licuados.
Licuados are a blended drink of fruit, milk, and either sugar or honey to sweeten it. Occasionally they will include nuts or chocolate instead of fruit. They are similar to a smoothie, but since milk is used instead of only fruit or yogurt they are fairly thin.
I was excited for a cantaloupe licuado, but when Matthew tried to order it, the proprietress informed us that there was only banana available. Blah, I think would appropriately summarize my internal response. I've always been a supporter of bananas in smoothies where other fruits are featured, it gives a nice heft, but as a solo artist? I quickly opted for an orange juice. Matthew went ahead and got the banana licuado. Fortunately, just like in my childhood game, just because I'm not thrilled about something, doesn't mean I'm not going to try it (Not eating vs. eating--which did you think would win?). Good thing too, because the licuado was fantastic. Sweet, smooth, cold, and the banana was anything, but blah. The next day in Chacahua, Matthew's second banana licuado cemented my love of the drink. "I LOVE BANANA LICUADOS!" So at my first chance I recruited Allison (and her blender) to make my own.

Licuado de platano
This will probably make about three large servings
6 ripe bananas
3 C milk
5 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract

Throw everything in a blender and whrrrrrr until smooth.
If you prefer things extremely cold,
throw in a cup of crushed ice. Salud.

Tuesday, November 18

Pizza Escondida

Three day weekends. Three day weekends in Mexico. Three day weekends in Mexico during November. Three day weekends in Mexico during November at the beach. Three day weekends in Mexico during November at the beach with pizza. These are all wonderful things, but the last one is truly wonderful because of that delicious little word pizza.
You know what's bad about pizza? Nothing. You know what's bad about loving pizza and living in a small town in Mexico? A lot of things. Primarily that I don't have an oven and there are two pizza places in Miahuatlán--one is ok and the other is positively revolting. Enjoying a truly delicious pizza this past weekend was a rare and delightful pleasure.
During my weekend travels I spent Sunday afternoon through Monday morning in Puerto Escondido. The town is one of the larger (if not the largest) towns on the Oaxacan coast. It is a popular tourist destination, because of incredible surfing, bountiful nightlife, and lovely beaches. The crowd that this drew, however, at times made me feel like I was simultaneously at an extremely large frat party and Bob Marley cover band concert. Frat boys and trustifarians? What a lovely combination.
Fortunately, the blitzed and shirtless are not the only ones drawn to Puerto Escondido. The town has a large number of visitors and expats from Italy. Apparently this is partially due to a popular Italian movie Puerto Escondido. While they may be among the bare chested numbskulls I sneered at, with the Italian tourists came the Italian restaurants. So it's all right by me.
Capers, mushrooms, ham, and artichokes smothered in mozzarella sat atop a perfectly sweet and mildly vinegary tomato sauce. Oh and the crust. I am a true believer that the crust is what divides a good pizza and a great pizza. This one was great. It had that slight crackery-crispness in spots that gives way to a soft chewiness, with a nice floury feel when it first touches your mouth. Mmmm. This reminiscence will get me through another pizzaless month.
Though I haven't been able to make it here, my favorite pizza crust recipe is from one of Ina Garten's cookbooks. I think it is Barefoot Contessa: Parties. I don't have the cookbook here, but I found the recipe on the interweb and copied it for your pizzaing pleasure.


For the dough:

  • 1 1/4 cups warm (100 to 110 degrees F) water
  • 2 packages dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt


For the dough, combine the water, yeast, honey, and olive oil in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add 3 cups flour, then the salt, and mix. While mixing, add 1 more cup of flour, or enough to make a soft dough. Knead the dough on low to medium speed for about 10 minutes until smooth, sprinkling it with flour, if necessary, to keep it from sticking to the bowl.

When the dough is ready, turn it out onto a floured board and knead by hand a dozen times. It should be smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and turn it several times to cover it lightly with oil. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into 6 equal parts and roll each one into a smooth ball. Place the balls on a baking sheet and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

If you've chilled the dough, take it out of the refrigerator approximately 30 minutes ahead to let it come to room temperature. Roll and stretch each ball into a rough 8-inch circle and place them all on baking sheets sprinkled with cornmeal. (You will be able to fit 2 pizzas on each 18 by 13-inch baking sheet.)

Top with desired ingredients. Bake for 8-12 minutes (or until crust is golden brown) at 450 degrees. (The version I found on the internet was for grilling these bad boys, but I'm pretty sure these are the directions in the cookbook.)

These pizzas are so good. I love the size they are and playing around with different toppings for each pizza. It's a good clean out your fridge creativity exercise. Here are two of my favorite topping combinations I've created in my pizza frenzies. Throw them on in whatever proportion you see fit. Usually I use diced tomatoes, garlic, and oregano instead of pizza sauce, but again, as you like it.

Fresh Thyme
Bacon (cooked)
Potato (bake or boiled, but definitely cooked)
Parmesan cheese

Shredded chicken or pork
Black beans
Green salsa
Mozzarella cheese

Thursday, November 13

Mountain Breaktrekking

The past two weeks I have been wallowing in the glories of breakfast for dinner. Eating hotcakes at the cemetery lit my fuse, and I've been churning out breakfast for dinner fairly often since. I get home from work after dark, I'm tired, I'm fairly ravenous, and breakfast at dinner time is the only thing more relaxing than having a masseuse waiting for you (or so I tell myself until I can find a masseuse to live in my apartment and wait for me). If you have eggs, potatoes, and a few staples, a delicious meal is in store for you. A thousand different possibilities await. I usually bounce between a garbagey scramble of eggs, potatoes, and whatever random goodies I have in my fridge, or soft-boiled eggs with fried potatoes on the side. Sometimes when I feel ambitious I may throw in a serving of those cornmeal hotcakes.
So in all my breakfast worship, I decided it would be nice to have a delicious breakfast in the morning (wild, I know). My schedule and propensity to sleep until the last minute make this a rarity, so last Sunday I decided to think of a special place to perpetuate my feverish consumption of breakfasty goodness.
San José del Pacifico is a small town in the mountains about an hour from Miahuatlán. It is a famous backpacker spot, because of its beautiful perch, maybe, because of its reputation as The spot for magic mushrooms, definitely. In my mind, however, it is the spot where a few weeks ago Matthew had an incredible breakfast at Comedor de Yazmin. Unfortunately, I had eaten just before heading up the mountain. I did have a taste of the deliciously simple eggs, rice, beans, and tortillas, and have been planning my ravenous return ever since.
San José del Pacifico

Sunday was the day. Matthew and I hopped on a camioneta, rode up the mountain, and disembarked, empty vessels waiting to be filled. We walked down the main road, took in the view, and walked up to a closed restaurant. YAZMIN!!!!
We found another restaurant and had a good breakfast, but it didn't satisfy me the way I imagined Comedor de Yazmin would have. So after hiking around and returning to Mia, I resorted to yet another dinner of eggs and potatoes. This time with rice and beans. Mmmm. I sort of feel foolish putting up a recipe that involves eggs and potatoes, but I will anway, just in case it gives you some kind of idea. This is my take on huevos a la mexicana, I've never seen them here with potatoes, but potatoes are so good! You will often get a side of rice, but I don't believe you can overstarch a breakfast, so do it all if you like.

Huevos a la Mexicana a la Margee

5 Tbsp olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 jalapeños, sliced
3 medium potatoes, cubed
6 eggs
1 Tbsp milk
2 roma tomatoes, diced
1 can black beans
corn tortillas

Heat olive oil in medium skillet over low heat. Add garlic, onion, and jalapeños (add as many as spiciness dictates and include seeds), sauté for 2 minutes. Add potatoes and raise heat to medium. Cook potatoes until tender and golden or to your desired crispiness. You may need to add more oil as they cook, but don't overdo it, because the eggs will go in the same skillet. Crack eggs in a bowl and use a fork to whisk with the milk. Add tomatoes to eggs. When potatoes are finished, turn burner to low and pour egg mixture over potatoes. Flip mixture as needed to cook evenly. Rinse black beans and warm in separate saucepan. In a separate skillet, warm corn tortillas over medium-high heat. Serve eggs with beans and tortillas on the side. Salt as desired. Serve with salsa and Valentina. Eat. Go hiking.

Monday, November 3

Hotcakes para Los Muertos

I've been floundering.
Last weekend was Dia de Los Muertos and it was incredible. I've been grappling with how and what to write all week.

Should I focus on all the food I ate? Can I even remember all the food I ate? What about all the crazy things I saw? What about the incredible art and costumes? What about the more serious and touching aspects of the holiday? What about the holiday itself? How can I blend all of these and throw out a delicious recipe with my usual charm and wit?

On top of these downward-spiraling questions, I was feeling especially Un-charming and witless this week. I was struck with a serious bout of food poisoning Monday, amidst a review I was holding for the first major English exams (don't worry, this isn't going to be another long, drawn-out puking story, but I am considering renaming my blog "Vomiting through Oaxaca"). So recovery and examinating Oaxaca's youths has absorbed me.

But now, dear friends and family, it is Friday. I am finished with preparing, giving, stressing, and grading and have tested the strength of my stomach with one of Miahuatlán's finest hamburguesas. I feel good.

So back to El Dia. I spent the weekend in Oaxaca city with Matthew and two of his good friends (or Canadian reprobates as he's fond of calling them). It was one of those weekends that was so active that on Monday things I did Friday felt like they happened weeks ago.

The city was wild. Altars with food, drinks, photos, flowers, and many other things to commemorate the deceased, were everywhere (ofrendas is the name, I think). Sand paintings of skeletons and saints decorated with marigolds lined the streets and sidewalks. Children dressed as dead brides and devils paraded through the colonial streets and graveyards. Families visited cemeteries and held gatherings. It was such an amazing combination of these very touching memorials, these intricate and temporary religious pieces, and a crazy celebration.

My head is reeling as I try to describe and include all the various activities and eats, so here are some photos to help me clarify how incredible it all was.

Sand-painting about to be tromped by
a parade of little dead brides and devils

Flores. Flores para los muertos!!!

Pan de muerto
There were all kinds. Huge loaves, loaves shaped like bodies, but they all had these little heads in them (representing the dead) and are a little sweet and flavored with anise.

In the evenings we ventured to the Panteon General (the main cemetery in Oaxaca). Outside was like a carnival, street food, games, etc. Inside was very solemn with more altars, sand paintings, and an amazing choir and string ensemble. Everything was lit by candles placed in the niches along the wall--which were graves too. We listened to the music and walked around the cemetery.

Outside, we played some games and ate a bunch of food. Including some not very delicious yellow mole and some very delicious mini hotcakes with honey and cajeta (or as I like to call it--goat caramel.) The night was pretty cold and these babies were soft, warm, and sweet--and they were little, silver dollars always taste better to me.

I remembered how awesome hotcakes can be. I generally am a savory breakfast girl and I always get annoyed at how soon I'm hungry again if I make a meal of hotcakes (damn empty carbs). As an evening snack, dessert, or an accompaniment to eggs--well, then I'm down with the hc's.

I was originally thinking I would try my hand at a traditional food associated with dia de los muertos, like tamales, hot chocolate, or a mole. But I have hotcakes on the brain. So I decided to take elements from the tamales and hot chocolate traditions and work these into some hotcakes.

Cornmeal hotcakes with Chocolate and bananas
I was originally going to make these monday, but because of my incapacitation (wheee...bleh) and exam craziness, I have yet to make them. I'm aiming for tonight, so this is a recipe in the raw...vaya con dios

3/4 C Flour
1/2 C Cornmeal
1 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
2 Tbsp Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Cinnamon
2 Eggs
3/4 C Milk
4 Tbsp Butter (for frying)

Mix all ingredients except for the butter, Nutella, and bananas. Heat griddle over medium-low heat. Melt two tablespoons of butter in griddle. Spoon batter (about two tablespoons per cake, really as big or little as you like) onto griddle. Fry about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown and puffed. Top with Nutella and bananas to your specific whim. Feast.

*I was planning on concocting a chocolate syrup with some of the spiced elements of my hot chocolate recipe, but Nutella is so wonderful, why overcomplicate things?

I made them! They were delicious!
Check the consistency--you may need to add a little more milk.

Monday, October 27

Windy Roads and Ceviche

My alarm-rooster crowed at 6:00 on Saturday morning. This time, however, I didn't want to cut of its non-existent head and stew it. I was happy to get up and be on my way. A weekend on the beach was only a few hours away!

Miahuatlán is only about a 3.5-4 hour bus ride away from Pochutla which is the launch pad of sorts to get to a number of Oaxaca's insanely beautiful beaches. This past weekend, with the majority of Miahuatlán's güeros (also known as my coworkers: Matthew, Erica, and Allison), I hopped on the 7:00 a.m. bus and set of for San Agustinillo.

As the bus curved, ascended, descended, curved, curved, ascended, braked for some goats, and curved through the mountains my excitement mounted, but so did something else.

As we wound our way toward the sea, my stomach and a sweaty fear wound about inside of me. I was going to be sick. As much as I had been denying it to myself during the ride (I don't get car sick. I just haven't eaten enough yet. I've done this trip several times before. . .), it eventually made an inarguable case. The curved roads, mango nectar, and stars all aligned against me and I vommed in a bag (wheeeeeee. . .teh, teh).

Getting sick is gross. Getting sick while using public transportation in the mountains where you can't really stop and so you hold a bag of partially processed mango nectar and stomach acid in your hands while you are afraid you might spill it on yourself or someone sitting next to you and realizing you still have an hour more to go before you will stop is Really, REALLY gross. Believe me. Even with all this, the most devastating thought running through my head was that I wouldn't be able to eat ceviche.

Ceviche is a dish where some type of fish (around here usually tuna or some other white fish) is cured in lime juice, mixed with tomatoes, onions, peppers, topped with avocados and served cold.

It's almost like a fish salsa, you even eat it with crisp tostadas. You can also find ceviche with shrimp or octopus, but Ceviche de pescado (with fish) has won my heart and stomach.

Every time Matthew and I have gone to the beach, we have eaten ceviche. It's kind of become a mission to eat it at as many different places as possible and then compare them--the one in Puerto Angel is sweeter than the one in Mazunte. Don't get it at Tanya's, it isn't very good...etc. It's perfect to have such a filling and refreshingly cool dish after being in the sun all day. All these things rushed through my mind just after getting sick and made me feel worse, much worse.

Well, I made it to Pochutla without further incident. Shortly after getting of the bus I drank a 7up (nectar of the wretched), ate a nice, safe chicken breast, and I was healed. We found a fantastic hotel in San Agustinillo, swam and swam and swam, I tried some of Erica's ceviche there, and had my own on the beach in Zipolite for dinner. It was my favorite so far.

Just because you might not live close to the beach--don't despair! I found a ceviche recipe on Epicurious that sounds fantastic. They add corn, sweet potatoes, and yuca, which sounds really good, but isn't necessary. I would probably leave these three out and add some diced tomatoes. Actually, for those of you who have access to my mom's salsa, I would cure the fish like they recommend (and make sure it's a very high quality fresh fish at that) and mix it with my mom's salsa(or some other high quality salsa). Then enjoy with some corn chips or tostadas! I found a recipe on Food and Wine that more closely resembles the ceviche I've enjoyed here on the lovely Oaxacan coast.
To health! To Ceviche!
To segueing a puke-story into a ceviche recipe!
Enjoy :)

Tuesday, October 21

Con Todo

"¿Con todo?" is a question I have developed a whole new level of understanding and appreciation for as I begin my journey into the world of Mexican street food.

It first started when Matthew persuaded me to try one of Miahuatlán's hamburger monstrosities. Believe me, monstrosity is the only just description. A hamburger con todo, began as a thin beef patty, but soon jalapeños were sizzling, queso Oaxaca and a yellow cheese were melting together, a slice of bologna was frying with the cheese, this mess was placed on the patty followed by a hot dog (which I believe was wrapped with some sort of bacon), jalapeños, onions, tomatoes, lettuce and the hamburger's holy trinity of sauces (catsup, mayo, mustard) also managed to perch themselves atop the jumble and ta-dah.

Watching this was a definite mix of horror and pleasure, but knowing Matthew had survived an earlier meaty liaison boosted my confidence in my ability to successfully digest this amalgam of questionable beef and pork parts. It was startlingly fantastic. Matthew stated it well when he said, "I didn't even think I liked hot-dogs, until I had one on a hamburger." I wish I could Fed-Ex you one.

My second "con todo" encounter was with an elote. An elote is essentially roasted corn on the cob on a stick. An elote con todo is essentially the acid-dropping uncle of corn on the cob on a stick.

The elotera didn't think I knew what I was getting myself into. After every ingredient she would repeat the query, "¿Con todo?" with raised eyebrows and would only continue after I had assured her "Si, con todo."

The corn was rubbed with lime juice, thickly spread with mayonnaise, salted, rolled in queso fresco, sprinkled with chili powder, drizzled with several kinds of hot sauces and handed over with a wary smile. Again, fantastic and I'm not really a fan of mayonnaise.

I think my next stop will be papas francesas con todo. I'm not exactly venturing into the unknown with that one (I've been told it includes catsup, hot sauces, mayonnaise, cheese sauce, and mystery white sauce), but even if I was, I can't foresee the day when I'll reply negatively to a "¿Con todo?"

Now, I don't have recipes for any of these, the ease and extremely low cost make any desire for me to replicate it seem foolish and strenuous. If you are feeling like a total insaniac and want to do it yourself, good luck and let me know how it turns out.

Wednesday, October 15

Big Yellow Fall

Winter temperatures this year will be in the 70s for me. I will go to the beach in January. It will not snow, it will not ice, Mexico is very nice.

I keep repeating things of this nature as I mope over lovely fall foliage pictures and mental whiffs of baking from the sweet Midwest. It is a pretty good consolation, but I'm not easily convinced. I think when I come home for an Iowa Christmas I will be fully (Pain-fully) convinced, but until then I'll probably pout a little longer.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot of the trees and baking I've enjoyed during past falls in the Midwest, Louisville (if you consider it the Midwest) in particular. Louisville has gorgeous fall colors and I had the most gorgeous little kitchen (that included an oven) while I was there. It is kind of like pushing a bruise--it hurts to keep messing with it, but it's oddly satisfying, so I'll keep pressing.

I've been reveling in a destructive daydream where I walk around Old Louisville and Cherokee park before going home and warming up by making a dinner of acorn squash with lots of butter and brown sugar, wild rice, and chicken with a lemony-dijon sauce. I accompany this with a bourbon barrel stout from BBC or a Schlafly coffee stout, and finish with a warm pan of apple crisp. Now, I am sorry, my Louisvillians, because I never made you a meal as seasonally delicious as this one. Don't, however, let my absence stop you and I won't let the lack of fiery trees and an oven stop me.

My desire for fall and baking has been manifesting itself into refrains of "Big Yellow Taxi" (Joni was talking about not appreciating fall and ovens enough, right?) and lots and lots of applesauce. It's a nice stove-top substitute for my favorite baked dessert, my great grandma's apple crisp. It also keeps well, is delicious cold, and tossed with some granola has a nice crunch like the apple crisp. Add a little plain yogurt or milk (if you have something other than the weird irradiated box kind) and granola for a substantial breakfast.

Now, I don't really have an exact recipe for this, my cooking style is as disheveled as my person, so take my instructions loosely and see how you like it. I like to put in any number of spices with the apples, pretty much anything that smells like it would be in pumpkin pie or a strongly scented candle called "Autumn" will be good. I've been using these little things called 'pimientas negras' that I thought were black peppercorns, but taste like cloves.

2 lbs of apples (preferably a tart apple like Jonathans)*
1/2 C of sugar
1 C of water or brewed chamomile tea
2 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1tsp cloves

If you want the apples to really break down and be more of a traditional applesauce you will need to peel them. I prefer them chunky and with skins.
Quarter the apples and remove stem and seeds. Chop into quarter sized chunks. Toss in saucepan with sugar, water or tea, and spices. Cook over medium-low heat until desired tenderness.

*If you don't have tart apples around add a couple splashes of orange juice.

Also, for you of the oven-elite, here is my great grandma's apple crisp recipe.
Grandma Dorothy's Apple Crisp
4 C sliced apples (I use more and a tart apple is best here too)
1 C sugar
2 T flour
1/4 t cinnamon ( I use more)
1/4 t nutmeg (random combinations of the aforementioned spices would fit well in this recipe)
dash of salt
Mix and place in greased 9x9
1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 C oatmeal
1/2 C flour
1/2 C butter
Mix till crumbly, place on top of apples, bake at 350 for 30-40min. So easy, so delicious!

And for some more delicious fall recipes for the oven-blessed, my friend Jess has you covered.
Shoo de dooo dooo bop bop bop...

Friday, October 10

Chocolate Saves the Day....Always

Blonde hair, blue eyes, general stubbiness of figure, and a propensity for hypochondria are a few things I have received through genetics. Love of dark, hot, delicious, bold, black coffee is among those things as well.

Any family gathering, the tea kettle is constantly whistling to keep the coffee flowing. It is hot, taken black, and consumed at an alarming rate. For the record there are a couple (married in--I'm just sayin') who take it with cream and sugar. Nonetheless, they enjoy a fine cup of coffee.

Prior to coming to Mexico I would look at one of those little maps with the symbols for different regional products and salivate over all the little coffees dotting Oaxaca. I was going to be close to some prime coffee dots and enjoy every minute of it.

Devastation, thy name is Nescafé. It's practically flowing in the streets, with lots and lots of sugar. Belh. It's like it had a hostile take over and forced all real coffees out. All those delicious coffee symbols I dreamt about are not being sold or drunk here, but, you, my friends to the north, are apparently getting it all. So enjoy it, please, because I am not.

Amidst my struggles with all the sweet, hot sewage around (and the pounding headache I get if I avoid it), I have found something sweet and hot that has salvaged my faith in Mexico's hot beverages. Maybe even salvaged my faith in Mexico. Hot chocolate. Please don't insult this hot chocolate by picturing that powder with the bunny. The chocolate here is real chocolate with hints of nuts and cinnamon.

Mayordomo, a little chocolate shop here, has a variety of chocolate mixed with vanilla, almonds, cinnamon, hazelnuts or combinations of several of these and it is delicious. It comes in little squares and looks like a gritty Hershey's bar that you plop right into some milk, heat, stir and enjoy.

Nothing can beat a hot chocolate like this on a chilly, rainy day.
For those of you who don't have the luxury of a Mayordomo, I've tried to come up with a delicious substitute based on chocolate daydreams and a recipe from
Bon Appetit, March 2004.

6 cups of milk (the fattier the better)
7 cinnamon sticks, broken
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 tsp vanilla or almond extract

Combine milk, cinnamon, and sugar in a medium saucepan, simmer over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat, discard cinnamon sticks, add cocoa and extract of your choice. Return to low heat and simmer. Stir until blended. Serves six or one with a large thirst for chocolate and a rainy afternoon to kill.

Bon Appetit calls for a lot more spices (cardamom, cloves, nutmeg...) and has you steep them in the milk for 20 minutes before adding the cocoa. I prefer a simpler more instantly gratifying approach, but alter it as your patience and spiciness demands. I'm a firm believer in altering everything to your own taste, so play around with it. I think it would be delicious with a little cayenne pepper.

If you happen to be in a bout of significant laziness, heat some milk and throw in a quality chocolate bar. Green and Black's Organics make one called "Mayan Gold" that has a strong chocolate percentage and hints of cinnamon and orange. Mmm.

One last chocolate-related item: There is a contest, "The Chocolate Adventure Contest," where you make up a recipe with Scharffen Berger chocolate and an "Adventure Ingredient." It's pretty fun to brainstorm and come up with different stuff and you may just win $5000. So if you don't have a large tin of cocoa around the house, you better get to the store.

Thursday, October 2

Breakfast....¿Donde estas?

When I began working at the university, every morning at 10 o'clock my fellow güeros and I would go have breakfast (classes hadn't and haven't started yet).

For 19 pesos (roughly 1.75) you could get chillaquilles, enchiladas verdes, or a rotation of other possibilities, a pastry, and coffee (very sweet, but hot and caffeinated).

Now, in the name of cost cutting, our friendly breakfast couple is gone and replaced by a soulless buffet line where not even the coffee is hot. So now it is 10 o'clock, I'm not enjoying chillaquilles, my stomach is growling, and I have 4 hours until lunch, but here are some photos that remind me what breakfast should be, so I don't break down and give in to the slop.

Wednesday, October 1

Live to Eat

Any day, whether a generally recognized holiday, family event, or a day when a few of us have some free time together, serves as an excuse for my family to have a party. Regardless of something or nothing being celebrated the basic formula remains the same.

1.Planning and discussing what will be eaten and drunk and combing through cookbooks, pantries, and liquor cabinets are half the reason we have parties at all. This could start days, weeks, or months in advance to maximize party-planning enjoyment (my sister and I have already started planning our 3rd annual pre-Christmas International Dinner)

2. During the actual event the food being eaten, food eaten in the past, and food eaten around the world are wedged at the top of our conversational hierarchy. Future parties are planned, familial culinary successes lauded, and outsiders culinary shortcomings paraded.

3. Traveling also holds an elite rank among topics. Stories, photos, and maps are often passed around to relate a recent trip or clear up a dispute over some geographic locale. Traveling is also a particularly important topic as it nicely intertwines with and segues into food discussions (see# 2).

4. The final element in all this is the frenetic level at which it is all done. Ranting, yelling, and hurriedly finishing the meal 10 minutes after everyone has arrived are not stressful elements, but adrenaline, diversion, and home.

Since I'm living in Oaxaca and away from the happy tumult, I'm hoping to enjoy it vicariously via blog. So Ill be filling my fam (and other interested parties) in on my eats and travels until I can do it in person. Maybe I can figure out how to play some Ramones or a track of jungle squawkings to give an idea of the noise level too.