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.