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.