Tuesday, December 8

Happiness is a Warm Boozy Cider

The only tongue in cheek element about that statement is my tongue checking my cheeks to see if there are any rogue drops of boozy cider that I missed savoring last weekend. Seriously. If Sr. Lennon had seen a recipe for my latest obsession instead of a firearm magazine, I think we would have a very different tune on our hands. Something you curl up with next to the fire and say in a mawkish mom-voice "Isn't that sweet?" (sans traces of irony).

Can I then, in clear conscience, present this recipe? Will I be responsible for a wave of musical production that is more cloying than acidic? More Barney than Oscar the Grouch? More bland smile than cynical smirk?

Several factors support the resounding "no" in my head. I'm fairly certain that if people read this and take inspiration away, it will be to make a boozy cider and curl up next to the fire instead of to write a song. Which, honestly, is all I'm going for. I've about got the edginess of a warm marshmallow which doesn't seem sufficient for musical inspiration . Plus, I figure, read the news and you'll find ample ludicrousness to inspire the strangest and most satirical of tunes.

My inspiration actually came from Thanksgiving. My fellow English teachers, the two lovely Mexicans stuck in the gringo office, and I had quite a lovely Thanksgiving spread for such a motley bunch of crumbums that worked the whole day. It was cool enough that having rich, autumnal-inspired menu items actually tasted good. Creamy spinach dip,fish in a pineapple-cinnamon sauce, orange-glazed beets, carrot-ginger soup, and boozy cider created an impressive cornucopia of fall treats.

Allison brought this inspiring concoction, lovingly spiced and spiked, and two days later I made it myself (as I always say, if someone does something you like, copy it and pretend it was your idea) and then again last weekend when I went with some friends up to the lovely cabañas in San Jose del Pacifico. Chilly mountains, adorable cabins, and fires were made to be drenched in apple juice, spices, and rum. It looks like for those of you in the midwest (Iowa especially), today (6-12 inches of snow, feels like -9°) was also made to be drenched in apple juice, spices, and rum. Maybe it will inspire you to do something creative or at very least not freak out while cut off from the outside world.

Ok, I've mentioned this before, but to reiterate, I'm not a recipe maker who is going to hold your hand and minutely guide you through this (especially for drinks). For that matter I'm not really a hand holder either, but that digresses into issues of clamminess. Anyway, the point is, I'll give you a basic outline and then push you into the swimming pool and see if you can swim. Yes, I am available to watch children.

Boozy Cider
Apple Juice
Cinnamon sticks
Whole cloves
Freshly grated ginger
Spiced Rum

Let the apple juice simmer with the spices for about 30 minutes. Add rum before drinking.

Tuesday, November 24

Homemade Prozac

Blame it on the rain (for the record, Milli Vanilli lyrics do not come up often enough in conversation), this time of year, the association of fall with going to school and all the new beginnings that went along with it. I'm blaming my antsy feeling to start something new on all of these things. Or maybe it's just that I'm on my third cup of coffee and have eight more hours to sit at my desk before I can go home. Should probably blame it on that.

Wherever the blame lies, I've been playing the whatdoiwanttodowithmylife game also known as the existentialcareerlifemindmeld. I've played a lot of games, got really pissed playing (read: sucking at) a lot of games, but this wins the prize for the least fun game I've ever played. Despite my aversion, I keep coming back to it. Even though I much prefer the whatamigoingtoeatforlunch game or the whatcrazymixeddrinkcanimakewiththecontentsofmyfridgeandliquorcabinet game.

Amidst loathing and continuing to play this game,I contemplated graduate school, but the GREs, lengthy applications, economy, and not having 60 grand stuffed under my mattress scared me off. I also browsed employment search engines, but you'd be surprised how few things show up when I entered "lover of Mexico" and "eat" as keywords. I guess I'll have to wait until Rick Bayless retires to get my dream job as Rick Bayless.

I don't mean to sound down and out about my current sitch, because I'm not. I just have what a Peruvian friend calls patas de perro (dog feet), a sort of restless, wandering nature/mind--which isn't limited to just the geographic, either. But even with this disorder, I know Oaxaca is so great, I love being here, and I love my job. My students are lovely and impressionable enough that I'm creating a cache of students who speak my personal brand of English, I just met my friends new baby (ok, that was well over a month ago now, but my internal arguments are longwinded and pair as well with a long stare out my office window as a cold saison with pommes frites), I'm heading to the mountains this weekend, and I'm in the midst of planning my second annual Oaxacan Thanksgiving. Not too shabby.

I've also remembered that nothing soothes my restless, overthinking mind like the beautiful melding of salt, sweet, and an unhealthy dose of butter. A gem of a holiday treat from Food and Wine that my sister made last Christmas fills this criteria perfectly--Chocolate-Almond Saltine Toffee. I definitely raised my skeptical eyebrow at the idea of saltines in a candy context, but lowered it in a euphoric stupor.

This sweetly rich and salty memory gave me the motivation to finally write a damned blog entry, stop trying to plan something that doesn't need planned, and attempt my hand at this toffee without the use of a candy thermometer and a high propensity for disfiguring myself with moltent sugar. Which I believe at least as daring as flinging myself around on a trapeze without a net. If I can start growing a beard, I'm selling tickets.

Wednesday, October 28

Monday Market Mysteries Part II

I thought the world had become a safer place. I thought I could stroll safely through the market without some unknown nemesis lurking beneath the lettuce, mangoes, and beets. I thought with the evil chayote locked away all was well. I thought. . .wrong.
A new blight has descended upon the peaceful market scene. One who feeds on a well-known market dweller, mutilating her shining, golden features into a monstrous distortion of leprous black and grey boils.

The worst shock came when I realized I knew this villain. Hiding out in Oaxaca she's passing herself off as
a seasonal delicacy and going by the name huitlacoche. But I'd recognize her monstrous features and fiendish ways anywhere, she once pillaged my mother's garden, torturing my siblings and I with here cruel, sadistic exploitations of the sweet corn patch. We called her corn smut.

No joke here, huitlacoche really is the same thing as corn smut. It is probably the food that has intrigued me most, probably because of the disgust it provoked in me as a child and never thinking of it as something edible or delicious. I've been wanting to try it, but haven't gotten to it yet, maybe because it is a little bit terrifying. Bugs, worms, intestines, feet, are all a little intimidating too, but never presented the same problem for me, because I've always had a special loathing and skin crawling reaction to mold. Huitlacoche looks like the most sinister mold I've ever seen, like something that could only be spawned by damp, festering gym socks with mayonnaise on them or something. I mean, grey/black, tumorous looking growths don't exactly spark the confidence that crispy red chapulines do.

That being said, I've still been eager to try it, so I bought some at the market two weeks ago and asked the secretary of the English department, the all-knowing Flor, how I should prepare it. She recommended blending it with garlic and chili, then frying it and using it in quesadillas. It sounded promising, but I've uncovered a problem with foods that look rotten; they rot on me. It has happened twice now. The past two Monday's, I've sought it out at the market, excitedly bought it, and had to toss it out a few days later.

Another problem has been October's pressing social schedule. This is also where I'm laying responsibility for my infrequent blogging. There was The Battle of Miahuatlán festivities to kick off the month and ongoing town or school events all month, culminating in Day of the Dead this weekend. It's been fantastic, but I haven't been doing a lot of kitchen experiments. I've been doing a lot of quick visits to papas or taco stands before the evenings events commence. One day soon, however, I will either conquer huitlacoche myself, or eat it at an establishment that has better produce management skills than I do.

I leaned slowly back in my chair slowly shaking my head. Huitlacoche had slipped
through my grasp yet again.
"You've won this round, Huitlacoche, you devilish little smut" I muttered, narrowing my eyes at the gathering darkness "but I'll will devour you yet," I added with a slight smile while lifting an icy Bohemia to my lips "oh yes, we will meet again."

Tuesday, October 6

Breakfast Pajamas

It feels like October. Yes, it is October, but the months here have rarely matched the descriptions I've stored away in my mental file cabinets. Today the sun is shining, the sky is blue, there is a cool breeze blowing, I'm reading ESPN to scrape up every accolade for my beloved Hawkeyes, and I'm wearing a sweater (I can barely contain my excitement with this one), all aspects darkly underlined on the October file.
To add to this excitement, my friends got an oven at their place. An honest to god oven!!! I commandeered it on a cool, rainy Saturday and made banana bread that my friend Jess made a couple years ago in the north country and I promptly tagged in my September and October files for future use.
I'm definitely projecting this fall feeling to a certain extent, I'm sweating wearing this sweater (my cool here is 70 degrees, not 45) and I won't get to watch a single Hawkeye game this season. That aside, I'm enjoying my faux-fall immensely. Tying certain aspects of my traditional fall to those I'm creating here.
My favorite fall traditions were generally also my laziest, it may be a coincidence, but more likely it is my undying love of being well pajamad. Living at home Saturday mornings at my parents house had me lounging in old flannel pants and playing Scrabble. My Louisville autumns saw me rocking the pajamas on my fire escape, listening to music, and enjoying a beer from BBC.
College has probably been the pinnacle of my pajama:normal clothing ratio(or low point if you're one of those "active" types). Looking back it seem like I was in pajamas for four solid years, but especially in the fall. Cooking breakfast on Saturday mornings before games, my friend Katie and I would daydream about owning cute pajamas with an egg and bacon print from the over-priced boutique. Later, as we would make our way to the game full of heavy breakfast foods and a bevy of beverages, we would host our pretend talk-show (our imaginary wardrobe being the aforementioned jammers) Breakfast Pajamas. Some may daydream about illustrious careers with fancy wardrobes, but give me a job where I can be a total ass and wear comfy pants with bacon strips on them.
For some reason unbeknownst to me, I can't ever remember what happened on this talk show. But I do remember making a condescending, mildly-amused, closed-mouth reporter laugh after pretty much everything we said. Maybe that was all there was. Whatever the content, the memories of football, crisp weather, breakfast, and cozy pajamas summarize everything I'm importing to Mexico for my full fall enjoyment.
These were the jumble of memories rolling through my head when I stumbled on something called red flannel hash. I've never gotten into the hash thing. Partly because the sight has always made me vomit in my mouth (just a little bit)and partly because my old roommate Roxie told me it was good, she generally lies. But red flannel made me think of pajamas and the recipe from epicurious involves beets and sweet potatoes, roots and tubers feel autumnal to me every time, plus there's bacon. It kind of screamed "I am fall, trick!" Maybe not the breakfast meal to take home to mom, nah, probably even mom would overlook the foul-mouthedness for the delicious.

Red Flannel Pajama Hash
serves 4
8 bacon slices
1 jalapeño, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/4 C fresh parsley
1/4 C sour cream thinned with about 1 Tbsp milk or fresh cream
1 C coarsely chopped cooked beets (roasted, steamed, boiled..whateva)
1 C coarsely chopped cooked sweet potatoes
1 C coarsely chopped cooked potatoes

In a large skillet fry bacon until crispy. Remove from skillet and crumble into a medium mixing bowl. Drain off excess bacon grease, but leave a thin coating in skillet.
Add remaining ingredients to bowl with bacon, salt and pepper, and mix.
Heat skillet over medium-high heat and transfer contents of mixing bowl to skillet. Using a spatula, smash hash mixture. Cook for about 15 minutes, turning up bottom occasionally to prevent sticking, but allowing to crisp and brown. Repeat smashing as needed.
Divide amongst hungry. Top with poached or over-easy egg.

Monday, September 21


So Mexico turned 199 last week (September 16 for you nogoodnicks that think cinco de mayo is independence day). I had this big plan to list 199 things I love about Mexican food, but I got to 38 (1/5.24 of 199. .that's significant, right?) and decided I would rather go eat all these things I was talking about, drink mezcal, and get decked out in red, white, and green garb than finish this list. I made the right choice. But here are the 38 I got to.

  1. Chiles Rellenos
  2. So many different varieties of things I had previously thought of in single-fixed terms like "mango" or "banana." I'd never thought about the answer to (or question) "What kind of mango would you like?" Thank you, God, for inventing fingers and their ability to point at things.
  3. Spicy peanuts (especially when they are free with beer)
  4. Oaxacan Mole! And all the 27 ingredients that go into it. And how people defend mole from their region like their mother. I've met a lot of poblanos that poo-poo the Oaxacan mole in favor of mole poblano. I totally understand. If there was an Iowa mole, it would be so much better than any other state's.
  5. Chocolate.
  6. Mezcal. Once referred to as "tequila for grownups and hobos" it can be fierce, but is generally smoky, smooth, earthy, and intoxicating. Enjoy with chile salt and citrus wedges.
  7. ¿Con todo?
  8. Fruit water
  9. Lime and spicy with everything
  10. Tomatillo tanginess
  11. Los Danzantes
  12. Ceviche
  13. Ice cream and paletas near La Soledad in Oaxaca and from dudes pushing carts in Miahuatlán
  14. Nanche, chayote, chamoy, epazote, and other mysterious things that I'd never heard of before and now know and love.
  15. The Spanish word for pomegranate is grenada, which answers my query of why pomegranate syrup is named "grenadine" . . .which, yeah, I probably should have got from the "granate" part, but. . .I didn't. And now I do. And I find it very satisfying.
  16. Cilantro's prevalence.
  17. How my students almost always respond to the question "What is your favorite food?" with "My favorite food is Mexican food."
  18. Spicy pork! Chorizo, cecina! So red! So luscious!
  19. Chilaquiles
  20. Squash flower soup
  21. Al pastor or shepherd's style--pork cooked gyro-style. And the accompanying joke Al pastor alemán (german shepherd) that it is made of dog. Also the fact that if that joke is at times true, I don't care, because it's sooo good.
  22. Licuados
  23. Atole. A hot, sweet drink made from corn. It kind of reminds me of a runny Cream of Wheat in texture and has some vanilla and cinnamon flavors to it. Sold from carts in the morning alongside tamales. Perfect rainy day breakfast.
  24. Tamales.
  25. Quesillo and its amazing elasticity.
  26. Tostadas
  27. Nopales
  28. Eating breakfast in the clouds in San Jose del Pacifico.
  29. Hot chocolate.
  30. Flan.
  31. Buying grilled chicken in the street.
  32. Huevos Rancheros from The Pelican in San Agustinillo.
  33. Goat.
  34. Mangos cut to look like flowers (or pine cones), sprinkled with lime, chili powder, and served on a stick.
  35. Tortillas. Corn tortillas.
  36. Enchiladas Verdes.
  37. Tasajo. It's like the offspring of beef jerky and a ribeye. I didn't eat it for the first bit I was here, because of the cafeteria's tasajo's resemblance to shriveled ears. Now it's a highly enjoyable accompaniment to enchiladas or chilaquiles.
  38. Tortas.

There are tons more, but that's as far as I made it. What are your favorites? Can you think of 71 more?

Thursday, September 3

Y'all Know What This Is?

I'm sure you don't. Those of you who have enjoyed popular music in the last few years probably know that it's a celebration (bitches), but not of what. I shan't keep you dangling in suspense any longer. Oaxaca and I are celebrating our one year anniversary today. All together now. . .Aaah.

It's pretty crazy. I can't believe it's been a full year already. We've had some turbulence (immigration, curvy mountain roads, chorizo aftermath), but Oaxaca and I really love each other. That being said, it ain't gonna last. Unfortunately, Oaxaca and I aren't meant for the long haul, because my family and that Vietnamese salad with vermicelli, mint, cilantro, basil, cucumber, and rice wine vinaigrette (what's it called?) don't live here. We're from two different worlds!

Reconciling the fleeting nature of our love, I've decided to enjoy the precious moments we have together. I also need to get serious about picking up some Oaxacan cooking skills, so I can carry Oaxaca with me and devour its memory wherever I go. Let's be honest, I'm in it for the food (cuisinedigger?).

To honor my anniversary, I decided to tackle my most beloved and also avoided dish(I've avoided cooking them, not eating them) . Chiles Rellenos.

Chiles rellenos are found in many areas of Mexico and the U.S. and can vary widely from the type of chilies to the guts. The first chile relleno I ever ate was in Taos, New Mexico at The Chile Connection when I was 11 years old. It was a poblano stuffed with shredded, spiced beef without the egg batter coating you generally see. It was wonderful and the first step in this downward spiral of my chile relleno obsessed life.

In Oaxaca they are usually filled with a spicy chicken called picadillo (which can also refer to pork or beef seasoned in the same manner), almonds, and raisins. The chiles are usually poblanos or chiles de agua, the latter are hotter and what we call banana peppers at home (I think. My chile knowledge isn't very large. I know, I know. I'll put it on the Ways I Must Improve as a Human list. Luckily, I can now check "share a delicious Oaxacan chile relleno recipe with the masses" off of that list.

Chiles Rellenos
Serves 4 (you'll want at least 2 each)

8 medium-large poblano peppers
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, chopped
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cloves
8 oz of tomato sauce
2 fresh tomatoes (preferably juicy ones), diced and juices retained
2 C chicken, cooked and shredded
1/2 C almonds, coarsely chopped
1/2 C raisins
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
vegetable shortening for frying

Using a long fork, roast poblanos over an open flame until skin is blistered and blackish. Try and roast thoroughly, because then the skin flakes off easily. Let me push the "using a long fork" part too. I first did this with the peppers sitting directly on my gas stove, sans utensil, and it was difficult to get the tops and tips of the peppers charred, yet surprisingly easy to do so to my fingers. Remove skin and set aside in a cover bowl to cool. Be careful not to tear the flesh of the peppers, you want them completely intact at this point, just minus the skin.

For the picadillo, coat a medium skillet with olive oil, place over medium heat, and add onion, garlic, jalapeños, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, and cloves. Cook until onions are soft. Add tomato sauce, tomatoes, chicken, almonds, and raisins. If your tomato sauce is pretty thick and your tomatoes aren't very juicy, add 1/4 C of chicken stock. It doesn't need to be very liquidy (yeah, I know), but you'll want a little so you can cook it down. I used canned tomato sauce and Roma tomatoes, so I needed it. Cook, stirring frequently, until excess liquid is evaporated. Turn of heat and set aside. You can make the picadillo in advance and refrigerate. Just rewarm before the stuffing.

Now get back to the peppers. They should be cool enough to handle now. Make a slit down one side of each pepper. Gently, gently. Stuff them with the picadillo mixture, so they are full, but that the slit is able to close.

You can reheat the peppers and eat them at this stage if you like or continue on for the breading. If you choose the breading here's the way epicurious does it: heat 1/2 inch shortening to 375°F. on a deep-fat thermometer. Fold yolks into egg whites. Working with 2 chiles at a time, using a slotted spoon, dip chiles into eggs and fry, turning occasionally, until golden, no more than a couple of minutes. With a slotted spoon transfer chiles to paper towels to drain. Enjoy.

Final apology--I was so busy enjoying my homemade chiles rellenos, that I didn't photograph them. I also didn't do the batter, because I was impatient to eat them (thus the epicurious section). So another list addition "Take pictures of beautiful foods" and "Buy things (like batteries) when you need them instead of saying over and over " I need to buy. . ."" And now, I'm off to the cafeteria for a breakfast serving of spicy, red meat.

With all this talk of anniversaries I almost forgot (ok, I did forget, but then I got an email and remembered--bad daughter) that my parents are celebrating 32 years of marriage today! It might not be as exciting as a 1st anniversary between a place and a human, but it isn't too shabby :) Happy anniversary rents!

Tuesday, August 25

Margee and Martha

The summer lull (aka No classes) at work has me watching lots of movies and reading lots of NY Times movie reviews. I've watched all kinds of random junk, pretty much whatever good quality pirated DVDs I can get my hands on. Rarely has it been a movie I sat down to watch, because I wanted to see it. One new movie that sparked my interest (based on content and not a monotonous 8 hour day) is Julie and Julia.

I haven't actually seen it, but everyone (Times included) keeps telling me how much they loved it, how much I would love it, and I believe them. I love a creative whim turning into a heartfelt success story. Something I love even more, however, is profiting on the use of others' creativity and turning it into my success story.

So without further ado (bahbahbaaaah!!!) adios, Aguacate. Hello. . .

Margee and Martha
The heartfelt story of two heartless women ruthlessly striving for culinary perfection. Though it may cost their souls, the gain of a homemade marshmallow of perfect proportion and density will make it all worthwhile.

Does this spell book deal segueing to movie deal or what? I bet Meryl Streep would do a pretty awesome Martha Stewart and if I ever think of a mid-twenties, blonde actress that doesn't annoy the shit out of me and actually eats (a lot), she could play me.

Maybe not. In reality, I do love Martha Stewart. I love how she's built such an empire, the lying to the feds, recipes ranging from incredibly simple to completely insane, the painstakingly beautiful desserts, her boozey drinks, her champagne and grapefruit sorbet, how I dream about someday getting married just because I want to have her berry-misu wedding cake. . . .However, I'm not planning on undertaking her oeuvre, not a chance. But I will pull out some of her simple and delicious recipes, rather than the more involved and my-god-why-would-you-bother ones.

So to combine my fleeting fancy of riding successes' coattails and Aguacate, I decide to make an avocado recipe of Martha's--Avocado Bruschetta with Green Sauce. And to move away from the themes of plagiarism to those lovely grey areas of inspiration, I have switched it to Avocado Tostadas with Green Sauce. In truth, partially because I can't find the quality of bread that I know Martha would insist upon.

Margee and Martha's Avocado Tostadas with Green Sauce
adapted from Martha Stewart Living July/August 1997
This is a great "final days of summer" meal or snack. Ridiculously easy to prepare and nice and light. Enjoy outdoors with some mezcal or a frosty mugged beer.

Serves 4
3/4 C Parsley
3/4 C Basil
1/8 C Cilantro
1/2 Jalapeño pepper, seeds discarded

3 Cloves of Garlic
5 Tbsp Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1 Tsp Red Wine Vinegar

4 Ripe Avocados (aguacates maturas)
1 Tbsp Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
3 oz queso fresco
8 Corn Tostadas

Finely chop parsley, basil, cilantro, jalapeño, and garlic. In a small bowl whisk together with olive oil and vinegar. Or if you don't have a completely crumbbum kitchen and possess a blender/food processor, ignore all of the above and blend it. It will be much more of a sauce that way. You could also cheat and use prepared pesto, but know, deep down in your soul that is spending time not chopping herbs,watching Law and Order: Special Victims Unit reruns, that Martha and I judge and loathe you.

Moving on. . .Remove pits and chop avocados. Toss with lime juice.

Spread sauce (or herb mixture) on tostadas. Divide avocados and queso fresco between tostadas. Salt, pepper, and green salsa (not the sauce you just made, a spicy one Anita's, Mrs Renfro's etc.) to taste.

Thursday, August 6

Vacation, Boredom, Babies, Donuts

My vacation is over. This is surprisingly bittersweet. The surprise is "sweet" tacked on the end of that word up there, but it was no accident. My vacation was wonderful, wild, fun, ridiculous, and completely exhausting. Sweetly, I'm back in Mexico and back at a job that for the next 2 months will involve mainly movie watching, facebook stalking, and epicurious.com salivating. It will be mind-numbingly boring in about 2 seconds, yes, but right now it is peaceful and relaxing in a way that only about 2 of my vacation days were.

It was really wonderful, though. I saw many of my favorite people and devoured many of my favorite things. Sushi, BLTs, sweet corn, fresh berry sorbet, salmon, pork loin with fennel, California style pizza (one thing I don't hate about CA). . . .the menu goes on and on. Let me assure you, between the leviathan culinary talents of my mother, sister, and aunt (I should also give my grandpa an "up and coming" award, he made a fantastic blueberry pie) and my mother's gardening prowess combined with Iowa's fecundity, I gorged steadily and happily on the freshest, most local (backyard), and deliciously/maniacally prepared food. Not once interrupted by the thought that I ought to get batteries for my camera and take pictures for you.

Besides eating, I also spent lots of time staring admiringly at my enormously-adorable, enormous nephew. Pinching his cheeks, accepting his slobbery kisses, and trying to sear my absentee aunt face into his memory took up a large part of my time.

Now that I'm back in Mexico, I'm spending most of my internet time looking at these beautiful photos that the talented Jess Nelson took of him. So adorable!

I'm also spending most (actually, all ) of my eating time in the post-vacation carryover of spoiled laziness zone. Which means, I haven't cooked anything. And I don't want to. And I don't really want to tell you about a new recipe, delicious Mexican food, or a clever family anecdote. And I don't feel bad about it, not one bit. (I think this post-vacation zone is also marked by large quantities of surliness).

One thing that I do want to do; eat a caramel cruller from Nord's Bakery. Donuts are my lazy, IdowhatIwant food. Unfortunately, I can't get them here. But I bet you can find them and tell me where you found them and how much you loved them. Even though you will be enjoying them and not me, I'll keep day dreaming about them. Mainly because of that picture of Barrett. Look at it again. Now look at this cruller picture. The way his chubbiness folds on his left side. . .do you see it? He's an almost-walking, human donut advertisement. And I'm sold. So I'm going to go back to gushing about how cute he is and salivating over the donuts he reminds me of. So there's that. Happy August.

Tuesday, July 14

Simple Syrup is People! Uh, I Mean. . .Important

Perhaps you've noticed my month-long absence (say you noticed). Unfortunately, the last few weeks, I've been trapped in what I like to call "The Clima Oaxaca Vortex." This isn't at the hands of an evil supervillain (Though I like to think what that would be. Probably, my supervillain arch nemesis would be that tuna with sunglasses, a cereal personality, or whatever the putrid-embodiment of Applebee's would be, but I digress). Rather than any of these loathed enemies entrapping me, it has been Oaxaca's rainy season.

It has thrown things out of balance. Or it has thrown me and you (my faceless midwest minions) out of balance. The cold and the rain has me eating potato soup and a crockpotless version of crock-pot meat. Not menus exactly fit for my giant mid-western fan-base (I'm not calling you fat, I'm just exaggerating my popularity) suffering the mugginess of middle America's Junes and Julys. If I were living in Iowa in July and someone suggested I make a creamy potato soup I would be inclined to throw bricks at them.

To avoid such a painful calamity, I've come upon the means to resolving our differences. Of course, it's a beverage. But unlike most unifying, friend-making beverages, this one doesn't have alcohol.

It all began while I was mulling over simple syrup last Wednesday at dinner. Three memories came to mind: the worst dirty martini I've ever tasted, my dad cleaning, and the many times that I have cut corners.

The worst dirty martini experience occurred my senior year of college--my friends and I held "fake prom" in the spring of our junior and senior years. This entailed all the things that high school prom did--dressing up, going to a nice dinner, and dancing to cheesy music.

During the dinner portion of our evening, my younger brother ordered a dirty martini. Shortly after getting it, he sent it back. When he tried the next one, he had a confused and slightly disgusted look on his face. Thinking he was a novice dirty martini drinker, I figured I'd take it off his hands and get an extra drink. But it was wrong. It had a bland sickly sweet flavor with the normal touch of olive saltiness--it was like a flat olive soda--so once again, ignoring the "just chug it" advice of friends, the waiter was summoned and made to understand that something was amiss. It was then discovered that an old Absolut bottle was being used for simple syrup storage. In case you were wondering, simple syrup, vermouth, and olive juice is not delicious.

The second memory is not actually related to simple syrup in any way. But the "simple" portion reminded me of when my dad would clean using a product called Simple Green. It wasn't just the name that I remembered, but a whole "Simple Green is people!!!!!" production that put Charlton Heston to shame. Calm yourselves, dears, the recipe I'm building up to has no human ingredients.

I may have explained away any raised eyebrows over my first two associations (or raised more eyebrows with the fake proms and cleaning-inspired thespian father), but allow me to rationalize the pondering of things like simple syrup. More in depth than the explanation that I just truly enjoy thinking about minute food related things.

I mentioned that it was at dinner the other night, at Miahuatlán's finest establishment,Haciendita, that I was mulling over simple syrup. I was drinking a naranjada, a drink made from simple syrup, freshly-squeezed orange juice, and sparkling water--kind of like a sparkling orangeade. There is also a limonada which is the lime counterpart and definitely the jefe de jefes of drinks I've had in Mexico.

The restaurant I was at, has exceptional versions of both. I've made limonadas many times myself, but they pale in comparison to those at Haciendita. While enjoying this naranjada, I realized the weak pallor of my beverages lies in my circumvention of simple syrup. Which is foolish, because simple syrup is only equal parts water and sugar, boiled gently and cooled. It's SIMPLE! You can even store it for several weeks, preferably not in an old, unmarked, vodka bottle or something sinister that makes you feel like you're devouring humans in a futuristic distopia.

To help sustain vitality in the most sticky or rainy of months, I present: Limonada.
alter amounts to make deliciously refreshing beverage to your sweet-sour-bubbly preference.

simple syrup
fresh-squeezed lime juice or orange juice for a naranjada
sparkling water

For the simple syrup: 1 C sugar, 1 C water--put 'em in a small saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let cool. Store in the fridge.

Put desired amounts of simple syrup and lime juice in a tall glass and mix well. Fill glass with ice and top with sparkling water. Tah-dah!!! Enjoy.

Friday, June 12

There Will Be Botanas

If the GRE were all food-related analogies, I would ace that crap blindfolded. Spain: tapas as Mexico: botanas. Duh. The answer should always be botanas.

Is snacking at the root of my love of the Spanish-speaking world? Umm, yes. Definitely yes. Though I've only been to Spain and Mexico, the libation accompaniments I've eaten in these locales have impressed me more than anywhere else.

This time of year (well, this time of year in the States) I'm on the prowl for some quality snacks. Not just any snacks either, I'm looking for small, simple foods that pair well with drinking outdoors in warm weather. Let's face it, summer is the love-child of nature and drinking, obviously.

I love all snacks, but for those lovely June days, a basket of potato chips is not going to cut it. Guacamole, fresh salsa, marinated olives, cheese and fruit, hummus, asparagus wrapped in prosciutto are a few classics that are a little more appropriate for the warm, alcohol drenched days of early summer. Fresh and salty are basically the criteria I'm trying to meet.

Mexico gets it. The botanas here are simple and delicious and are the perfect fit for warm days. If I could modify the Mexican flag, the snake that the eagle is clutching would have "Fresh and Salty" written on its body. Maybe it's already understood that snakes are fresh and salty, but for my taste you never can be too blatant.

The primary snack that accompanies a beer here feels like a no-brainer, but has a couple extra touches that push it up a few notches. Peanuts coated with chili powder and served with a lime wedge may not sound dazzling (they should, but I'll allow that they might not), but they are. Peanuts and beer have always been buddies, but these badboys are a cold Bohemia's soulmate. I'm not sure if they sell these same pre-made spiced up P's in the U.S. (check your local Mexican grocery), but I think some Spanish Peanuts, a little melted butter, a few shakes of chili powder, a tad of minced garlic, a quick toast in the oven, and served with a lime wedge would do just the trick.

Hmmm, I might need to change my Mexican flag slogan to "Chili and Lime," because my next botana favorite is also heavy on these. Or maybe I'll just imagine that the red and green are representative of these. I swear I'm not trying to belittle or offend the entire nation of Mexico by imagining the flag in snack related terms. I think of all flags in food related terms. I think this is a product of my birthday's proximity to the 4th of July and subsequently a lifetime of U.S. flag birthday cakes.

Anyway, moving away from my food-culture broad-brushing and back to the snacks--my favorite bar snack so far is incredibly simple. It is a plate of carrots, jicama, and cucumber cut into strips, topped with fresh lime juice and chili. It is beautiful, fresh, delicious, and light (let the beer bog you down, not the snacks).

This spiced up relish plate, a bowl of chili peanuts, and some guacamole are my botana trio of choice--the perfect way to spend a warm fuzzy-minded afternoon in the sun.

Tuesday, June 2

The Thorn-in- My- Side Birds

You know those books, those lovely, lovely books, that you pick up on a whim and get swept away in the story, the characters, the writing, and the emotions? The ones that keep you up later than you really want to be and sometimes feel an almost human affection for them? A Little Princess, The Grapes of Wrath, Pride and Prejudice, The Book Thief, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Bell Jar. . .the list goes on and on.

This past week, however, I finished The Thorn Birds, which I will be putting on a far different list. A black one. I hated it so much it will be hard not to look down upon people who say they "..thought it was ok."

Sure, I am a snob, but I'll admit that I'm not above liking things that most people think suck--it isn't all Ingmar Bergman films and John Steinbeck novels for me. I could (have, would, will) watch Cool Runnings repeatedly back to back and listen to some serious early '90s music mixes.

The crux of my tirade isn't how could someone love this, but how could apparently everyone love this? Taste is taste, I know it's relative and the idea of "good" taste and "bad" taste are ridiculous, but man, that book sucked it's way throughout most of the 20th century and became a New York Times bestseller--what is wrong with people!?!? (I'd say it was the '70s, but The Da Vinci Code reminds me that my generation is not so innocent either).

I kept reading thinking there had to be some redeeming quality, but the ridiculous dialogue and constant "tragedy" just kept going. I'm not sure if it counts as tragic if I'm exasperated instead of sad, though. I'll say this for Colleen McCullough, she sure is an inventive character killer. Death by pure spiteful will, burning in a bush fire, suffocation by wild boar, drowning-heart attack rescue...nobody dies the same (or a normal) death twice.

Why did I bother reading it? you may ask--I'm an idiot who finishes everything (in terms of books and movies only, unfortunately) I guess. Because if there ever was a time to quit anything, it was after page one of The Thorn Birds. But instead I hated my way through all 692 pages.

The one redeeming portion of the book was at the very beginning where they eat a dish referred to as "Jam Roly-Poly." I hate the name, but I can't blame that on the book, because apparently it is an actual old English dessert. It was described as biscuits laced with jam and topped with warm custard. It was a jam-biscuit beacon amidst my furious hostility at the "life's a shit-storm" theme and obnoxious early-20th-century Australian vernacular.

Moving on from the blinding hatred. . . I don't have an oven, so replicating a biscuity portion of this recipe was not going to be easy. I've faced worst feats before, for example: finishing The Thorn Birds. Stubbornness isn't one of the qualities I'm lacking, so working my way to the end of a book, movie, or final delicious end of a recipe idea are not areas where I am going to give up.

I decided to make a stove top corn bread to use as the base for pudding and jam. I used a basic cornbread recipe and just plopped the batter into an oiled skillet and cooked over low heat--with a final and slightly destructive flip at the end. I'll admit, I was craving buttermilk biscuits through the whole process though, just a thought if you've got an oven.

My toppings were store-bought strawberry jam and homemade vanilla pudding. The pudding recipe is one I've often used for fillings or dousings for anything that needs a filling or dousing (I was obsessed with making cream puffs in HS and this was a perfect filling). Like many delicious standards, this recipe comes from the staple-laden Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (a book worth lingering over).

The final result was pretty good, but only pretty good. The pudding was delicious as always, but paired with the sugary store-bought jam it was slightly cloying, in spite of the unsweetened cornbread as a base.

Luckily, it didn't inspire a passionate hatred like The Thorn Birds. After all, I did discover a good method for making cornbread sans stove and I gorged on the vanilla pudding leftovers the next day--which was quite satisfying.

Maybe it isn't so bad to venture into new and surprisingly sub-par territories, whether for books or recipes (on the rare occasion). It brings to mind past successes (even if it's in a longing kind of way) that should be revisited--I'm thinking cream puffs with the aforementioned pudding and a rereading of Anne of Green Gables are about due for another visit and all the affection I did not shower on The Thorn Birds.

Tuesday, May 19

Bacon Fever

"Swine flu! I had bacon fever once, but it turned out the cure was just more bacon."

If statements like this represent "the norm" of communication between you and your siblings, what exactly does that say?

a. We all read The Onion a lot.
b. We have some psychological aversion to taking things seriously.
c. We have nearly every Simpsons' episode memorized and try to mimic them in every aspect of daily life.
d. We have a lifelong devotion to cured meats.
e. We grew up on a farm in Iowa; pork fervor is in our blood.
f. All of the above.

Oh yes, it is all of the above.

I know bacon loving has become quite the fad these days (I'm still not sure how eating fried meats becomes a fad, but whatever), but I'd like to take this moment to say: Tricks! The Perdues were here first! And we'll be here (with clogged arteries) long after you go running back to chicken and fish--or some weak sauce like that.

Bacon was present for many of my fond memories with my family. Some moments I feel like bacon was a member of our family. An abnormally silent, highly valued, and acceptably edible member, but still.

Bacon was there in BLT form with garden-fresh tomatoes after swimming lessons every Summer. Bacon has come to all our large New Year's day parties snugly wrapped around prunes and adding to the delight of the cleverly named "big sandwich." Bacon has been the steadfast breakfast partner to waffles, french toast, eggs, ableskiver, crepes and numerous other breakfasts that have been lingered over in my parents kitchen.

Last week I was in one of those rare moods when I was hungry, but nothing really appealed to me. I was wandering aimlessly around Miahuatlán mulling over the food in my fridge--none of my stock sounded remotely appealing except for a cantaloupe whose days were numbered.

I contemplated this cantaloupe and drifted into a daydream of eating melon and prosciutto in the Italian countryside with a glass of prosecco.
Then I had the realization that: hell, I am in Mexico. Prosciutto's cousin bacon, good ole sturdy bacon, my life long friend, lives here. And bacon crept into my mind, infecting me, and reminding me of all the good times we've shared.

So I decided to make an Italian countryside-daydream into a small Mexican city reality that showcased the food-love of my life. I came out with: Bacon Manchego Quesadillas with Melon Salsa.

It was just the trick. It sparked my hunger, was fresh, sweet, and savory. I was excited about my new twist while maintaining some (probably minimal, yes) Mexican cuisine elements. I
practically ran home to make it--I mean, it has BACON in it--who can walk? It had everything my bacon revering family would be excited about: bacon.

Bacon Manchego Quesadillas with Melon Salsa

I actually didn't pile on the bacon or cheese. With the amounts below (and using a little of the grease for frying) the flavors are all strong without being a heavy, meaty-cheese bog. However, do as your conscience dictates--bog away. Also, make sure your cantaloupe is nice and ripe. The salsa will benefit from a juicy one.

1/4 lb of bacon
8 medium corn tortillas
3/4 C refried beans
3 oz thinly sliced manchego cheese
Melon Salsa
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 of a medium onion, diced
1 C fresh cilantro, chopped
1 small-medium cantaloupe, cut into small cubes
1 jalapeño
Juice of one lime

Assemble the salsa first. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cook bacon in a medium skillet until you obtain desired crispness (preferred crisposity?). Remove bacon from skillet, blot with paper towels, and break into small pieces. Drain standing bacon grease from skillet, but allow a coating to remain and set the skillet aside.

Evenly spread 1/4 of the refried beans on a tortilla. Evenly distribute 1/4 of the manchego and bacon on the beans and top with another tortilla. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

Heat the skillet (with the bacon gloss) over medium high heat. Place one quesadilla in the skillet and cook 3-4 minutes or until the tortilla begins to crisp and brown. Flip quesadilla over and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and cut into quarters. Repeat with each quesadilla.

Top quesadilla wedges with melon salsa and enjoy.

I almost forgot my shameless self-promotion for the day! Whew, that was close.
Please go vote (highly) on my enchilada recipe! I love winning!

Wednesday, May 13

Frying Times

Swine flu. Having nothing to do. A boss that is trying to deport you.
Come on, $25,000 Pyramid lovers, any guesses?
Brrrww: "The trying times Margee has had these last few weeks?"
Bing, bing! We have a winner!!!

If "Aaarggghh" (nice and phlegmy at the end) has ever been your standard response of disbelief and frustration for about a solid two weeks or longer, then I think you know where I'm coming from. Things and people that suck, just suck.

Fortunately, things have wound down. My back is feeling less and less like knotted tree roots and the "aarrrggh" sound is turning back into actual words, because swine flu scares have eased (mainly my boredom at being in my tiny apartment) and the aforementioned boss is no longer the boss. Woot, woot!

To really ease myself out of these trying times I have made a few visits to my friendly papas francesa man and turned the oil up to eleven for a little fryin' of my own.

I know there are the healthier comfort food options, but I prefer the unhealthy ones in particular trying times, because it's like a little gift. You're acknowledging that things suck and allowing yourself to partake in something you might not normally. Like your mind is saying "Yeah, it has been pretty bad. You go right ahead and eat those french fries while you stare darkly at nothing and listen to Leonard Cohen. Why don't you put a little more mayonnaise on them while you're at it?" Ahh. Thanks for understanding, mind, I think I will.

Every trick will tell you some different trick that is supposed to make the best french fries. Soaking in water, russet potatoes, chilling, draining--I have no idea. I've done it a thousand different ways and I really can't tell you what works best other than: hot oil + potatoes. Actually I don't even care if there are potatoes. Sweet potato fries (bake or fry) and these polenta fries have been some spud alternatives that I'm extremely fond of.

Regardless of what kind you want to make, I'm not going to run tests and tell you the best methods, I'm still in final stages of recovery, people! I'm leaving that part to you or you checking out Cook's Illustrated. They always have fantastic test kitchen recommendations to get "the best" of whatever. And their covers are just so dang purty.

My focus is on the eating of the fries. And what I want to be eating them with ( I mean sauce-wise because obviously I want to be eating them with beer).

My street french fries come with heavy drizzlings of mayonaise, catsup, hot sauce, and a nacho-cheesey sauce. I highly recommend recreating these. I would use Valentina for the hot sauce and maybe some Tostito's nacho cheese dip for the cheese. You though I was high class? Well, that was just a lie (but I do recommend eating these with a fork.)

If you aren't into the sloppy street-style fries, maybe make a variety of sauces to accompany your fries. Before Christmas at my family's Belgian Night, I made a trio of sauces to go with our fries.

Saffron Aïoli Bon Appetit August, 2006
  • 2 whole heads garlic
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon saffron threads
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
reheat oven to 350°F.

Wrap each garlic head in foil and roast until soft, about 1 hour. Unwrap and let cool. Peel cloves and set aside.

In medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks and lemon. Set aside.

Place 2 tablespoons hot water in small bowl. In small, dry skillet over moderate heat, toast saffron for 30 seconds. Stir into hot water, then fold saffron water into egg mixture.

In blender, combine 4 tablespoons canola oil, raw garlic, roasted garlic, and salt. Blend on high speed until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add egg mixture and blend 1 more minute. With motor running, very slowly add olive oil and remaining canola oil in steady stream, and continue blending until thick, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

Bloody Mary Catsup--I created this with store bought catsup, but added some items for a little more spice and a little less sugar, because for me, store bought catsup is much, much too sweet and this felt all fancy.
  • 1/2 C prepared catsup
  • 1/2 C tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp chopped sweet red peppers
  • 1 Tbsp hot sauce (preferably Tabasco)
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp horseradish
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Dump all ingredients into blender and blend until smooth.

Not that salt isn't a respectable and adequate companion for the fry-world, but sometimes in your darkest hours you got to jazz things up a bit. It doesn't even need to be very involved. Throw some garlic and parmesan cheese into store bought mayonaise and be thankful for those lovely Belgians that have given us possibly the most beautiful of coping mechanisms.

Wednesday, April 29

Let Me Count the Ways

I recently broke a five-year stint and reentered the world of "people who go to the dentist." Ouch. I'm not that afraid of the dentist or that negligent about dental hygiene, but one thing I have been these past five years--poor and uninsured. Well folks, Mexico is just the cure for that, universal health care and reasonably priced private practitioners and I'm back in the game!

Unfortunately, my leap back onto the scene was not as painless as my bill. Five cavities. Yes, five. One for every year that I have not been to the dentist. Now, once again, I would like to stress that it isn't only on account of my grossness. I brush my teeth at least twice a day, usually thrice. I was told once that the enamel did not form properly on my molars and that is why I am so susceptible to cavities--as this makes me feel better about myself and hygienic practices, I often reiterate it.

Beyond excusing myself of any responsibility and reveling in the low cost of living in Mexico, I have also been reminiscing about my five favorite things I have eaten over the last five years that have contributed to my five rotting teeth. Aaah repetition, what a device.

Ice cream--that category could take up the whole list, but a few of my favorites have been last Labor Day's homemade pistachio (I shelled pistachios for a solid hour and it was very, very worth it), Ted Drewe's concretes, nuez and melon paletas from street vendors here in Miahuatlán, evening visits to Whitey's in Iowa City, and Martha's Grapefruit and Champagne sorbet we made several Christmases ago.

Donuts from Nord's Bakery in Louisville. I can't even explain how often I dream about their caramel krulers (It's what I imagine eating a cherub to be like) or their pecan rolls or their long johns (I didn't even think I liked long johns). My favorite Sunday morning ritual was to walk to Nord's buy two or three donuts and take them next door to the coffee shop for some Guatamalen Antigua and free copies of National Geographic. Ahh living.

Anything made by my grandma--she wasn't able to do a lot of cooking these last five years, but she still rolled out some serious sweets, especially around Christmas (chocolate souffle, almond cookies, buckeyes) and on birthdays when grandchildren received a giant rice crispy cake. I must also mention that she was a stickler about dental hygiene and everyone had a toothbrush at grandma's house--she would not be pleased that I am crediting her for contributing to my five cavities, but everything she made was sooo good I was never able to control myself or want to lose the flavor by a tooth brushing.

Fresh fruit pies--especially peach and raspberry. Every summer, when my mom has either gathered the fruit from her orchard or hunted out all the wild raspberries from every corner of Iowa it is time to visit and eat. She has so many different peach pie recipes too--one baked with cream, one no-bake with a glaze made from more peaches, one with a crumb topping. . .it goes on and on. I never get tired of it (dessert, snack, breakfast, appetizer) and could easily polish off an entire one myself if I didn't have to share.

Swedish Fish--this seems kind of sacrilegious. I know there are a thousand other things I have eaten in the past five years that have been made with love and talent that I should put instead, but the one sweet that keeps popping its red-fishy head up in my mind is Swedish Fish. I just love them. I don't know what it is, they are a weird texture and a very unnatural chemical flavor, but I adore these things, maybe it's something in my Scandinavian blood. Or maybe it is there awesome ad team that came up with "the one thing that sucks about friends is that you can't eat them." My sentiments exactly.
I also feel with the way they stick to my teeth and my fondness of binging on them after binging on other things before falling asleep in college has probably had more of a detrimental effect on my teeth than any of the other things on this list. I may have just had to shell out dough for their handiwork, but I'd shell out some serious pesos for a bag of those bad boys. Mmmmmmm.

To sweets and repeating our mistakes!!!

Wednesday, April 22

Dead Flowers and the Perfect Spring Meal

The Rolling Stones might normally bring ideas of rock n' roll, strange gyrations, effects of heavy drug, alcohol, and eyeliner abuse, tight pants, whatever the opposite of aging gracefully is, and did I mention effects of heavy drug use? Yes, I am thinking specifically of you, Keith Richards (with the eyeliner thing too).

Since Easter, I've been listening to a lot of The Rolling Stones and its been conjuring images of Easter brunch and as I continued ambling down that strange road, spring menus pop to mind also.

Now, you may be wondering if The Stones have put out an Easter album or if I have a secret single copy of the never released "Lullabies About Fluffy Baby Animals" album. Sorry to disappoint, but as far as I know they haven't and I don't. Also, as far as my knowledge of their music extends, I can't think of any songs that they sing about celebrating Jesus' resurrection or bunny rabbits either.

It all stems from the orphans' Easter brunch I had last year. It wasn't a brunch for real orphans, I'm not even minutely that benevolent, but rather for myself and friends of mine in Louisville who lived too far away from their families to make the trip.

I constructed the menu based on what I feel are Easter (and spring, for that matter) meal essentials--items heavy on fresh herbs and or citrus. A mushroom, thyme, and Parmesan quiche, French toast with lemon curd, and mimosas. Thanks to the lovely persons I invited, monkey-bread, wine, and a banana cream cake were added to the list.

The company was lovely, the meal was lovely, the flattery of my culinary prowess was lovely, and to top off all that loveliness it turned into an old-fashioned campfire singalong (sans campfire) which included a more authentically country-twang version of Dead Flowers (The crooner we had is Kentucky not some awkward English boy pretending to be). So there lies connection numero uno.

Secondly, I'm very, (let me emphasize with italics) very manic-depressive when it comes to the weather. Luckily, I've been enjoying rain-free Junish weather since November, but on the other hand, I don't have the general over-energetic mania I normally get around this time of year. The Rolling Stones have that same energetic push that I think could fairly be described as manic, like spring, that just makes you want to play drums on your steering wheel or do cartwheels in dewy grass or dance around like. . .Mick Jagger.

Since Easter feels more like the start of spring to me than any other time, partially due to the food involved, I've started day-dreaming over classic springtime menus. Ham and potatoes are some of my family's Easter traditions. These cut across all seasons for me, but the way they are prepared can spruce their springtime cred up a bit--honey glazes or fruit sauces for the ham and fresh chives or parsley for the potatoes seem to be like little Easter bonnets--definitely a springtime thing. The dessert is always fruity (usually citrus) and light--a beautiful lemon chiffon cake with raspberry cream from Fine Cooking and Martha's coconut cake have been some of my past favorites.

This Easter I traveled home (listening to Sticky Fingers (I'm driving this far-fetched interweaving home)), slept, and ate some, well, Mexican food. I was thinking of all the things I would like to make for an Easter brunch and spring meals, pining over the nonexistence of lemons, angel food (which requires an oven), and many other non-Mexican things I can't have while the perfect spring-Easter meal was being rapidly devoured right in front of me (into me?) in all its Mexican glory--enchiladas verdes.

I hadn't ever thought about how perfect enchiladas verdes are for spring or for an Easter brunch. I've been eating them incessantly since I moved here and never thought of compartmentalizing them into a seasonal entree (seasons mean something entirely different here too, so it really wouldn't work). My case for putting them into the spring file; to start, they're a beautiful mossy green. I feel like that's enough explanation right there. But to continue, they are also tangy--thanks to those little tomatillos, full of fresh herbs, and have a hint of citrus (sometimes lime juice is added, but I think tomatillos have an almost citrus taste themselves), but are still warm and comforting with filling layers of tortillas, so they fit nicely into the delicate spring balance of being fresh and light, but also warm and filling.

Also, they are not heavy, cheesy, meat-filled monsters like the enchiladas you will find in the U.S. Often, they are only tortillas and sauce with a sprinkling of queso fresco and thin slices of onion. You can have them topped with any number of delicious items like eggs, shredded chicken, cecina, or beef. My personal preference is with an over-easy egg or shredded chicken.

Enchiladas Verdes--adapted from Bon Appetit, June 2007--this sauce would also be perfect for chilaquiles verdes or served with eggs.

3 lbs tomatillos, husks removed
3 large jalapeños, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1 1/2 bunches cilantro, coarsley chopped
3/4 C parsley, coarsley chopped
1/3 C mint, coarsley chopped
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 C chicken stock
1 Tbsp fresh-squeezed lime juice
corn tortillas*

Cover tomatillos and jalapeños with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until tomatillos are soft (this didn't take long for me, but the tomatillos here are much smaller than the ones I've seen in the states. Bon Appetit suggests 15 minutes simmering and 15 sitting in the water). Drain and let cool.
Chop tomatillos (If the tomatillos have absorbed water try to get rid of it, but keep the seeds) and jalapeños (discard seeds if you want a milder sauce) and place in a blender or food processor. Add remaining ingredients except tortillas. Blend.
Return mixture to saucepan and heat over medium low heat. Heat until warmed thoroughly or until a desired thickness is reached.
Place corn tortillas in a separate skillet and cover with a small ammount of salsa verde. Heat for a few minutes over low heat to soften tortillas. Transfer tortillas to serving plates and fold in half twice. Cover with additional sauce. Top with egg, chicken, cecina etc. as well as onions and sour cream. Ahh, bliss.

*of course you can use store bought, but the taste doesn't compare at all. Check out this video tutorial on epicurious--be inspired to make your own.

Friday, April 3

The Agony and the Ecstasy

I haven't undertaken a project the scope of painting the Sistine Chapel's ceiling or anything. Don't worry, I'll be sure to complain about a big project if one comes up. This title just keeps popping into my head because
A) Assorted, illogical things are always sprouting up up there.
B) I keep thinking about how everything has positive and negative points
C) Overdramatization with titles is the way I live my life.

The positive and negative isn't supposed to sound depressing. If you think of it a certain way it can be rather comforting. No matter what you do there will be some bright spots, and no matter how much little things might be bumming you out, there will be little things that bum you out in anything (I'm not sure if that comes of the way I mean it too, but I think it's supposed to be a relief).

I keep thinking about how much I love Mexico (happy), but I'm probably not going to stay forever (sad). But then I also think, when I go back to the U. S., I'll get to see my family much more often (happy, fun), but then there will be winter (sad, gross). I might go back to school (interesting, exciting) and I might go back to school (homework, gross).

This title seems very applicable to most foods as well. It seems that often there is an inverse relationship of agony and ecstasy. Taste goes up , health goes down or health goes up, taste goes down. I know this isn't true of many, many things--I love the s**** out of lots of healthy things, but I also enjoy a giant pile of animal products that have been cooked on diner griddles in the old fat remnants of other animal products and then topped with cheese.

The agony isn't just related to thoughts of "oh, this is so bad for me." Nah. It's generally that it feels bad for me as my system struggles to digest it. For example, I had the unfortunate realization, when I was home over Christmas, that my sturdy Midwestern frame with generations of dairy-farm blood flowing in its veins has come to the inconceivable conclusion that it cannot handle cheese very well. Unfortunately, my whole family smelled this realization as well, because Christmas is not a time when I'm going to sit back and not eat pound upon pound of cheese.

Man, I could go on and on about the pain I've inflicted upon myself in my ecstatic consumptions. However, I'll just leave you with my most recent edible example of food's duality. Some pictures are worth 1000 words--this one is worth approximately 3000 calories. Aaah the glory.

It isn't easy to tell exactly what the slop is so I'll give you the breakdown.

Step 1: Boiled potatoes, cut into wedges are the foundation for this monstrosity

Step 2: Add a heaping mound of guacomole--this batch was simply avocados, tomatoes, garlic, and a green habanero salsa.

Step 3: Fry bacon. Add to life-shortening mound.

Step 4: Fry egg in bacon grease. I wanted the egg to be over-easy, but you would be surprised how difficult that is when you are trying to flip it with a butter knife. Ahh well, toss it on the pile.

Step 5: Finish with Valentina and freshly ground pepper.

Hopefully your ecstasy at this ridiculous dish outweighs the agony. My stomach felt a little over stretched and resentful the next day (it should've been thankful I didn't have cheese), but thus is life--plus, I'm still getting some residual ecstasy from the memories. Also, I have tagged this as "breakfast", because of the egg, potato, and bacon combo, but I don't know if I would try to live through a whole day after eating this. Mmmm. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 25

Afternoon Delight

To clarify: this title in no way relates to the song of the same name or its surprisingly adult-themed innuendos. Though, I keep playing those karaoke scenes from Arrested Development over and over in my mind.

My afternoon delight evokes lazy afternoons when there is nothing to do at that moment or in the future. Books are read, games are played, and cocktails are drunk in the sunshine (or if it is March and you don't live in Mexico, hopefully in the sunshine or by a fireplace). Sometimes one, sometimes one too many, but it doesn't make any difference, because on these special afternoons there's nothing you have to do and you are void of any nagging guilt that you should be doing something.

I had more than my share of these afternoons in college and a fair dose in Louisville too. A couple of my favorites include post-work $2 margaritas during Jeopardy, drinking champagne after a late breakfast and watching Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, and post bluegrass brunch Orange Bourbon Sours and the complete first season of 90210. Those were lovely, hazy afternoons.

Here in Mexico I'm working all week and on the weekends I'm generally off to the beach or Oaxaca City (which both invite a certain kind of afternoon laziness, but it isn't the same as being home or sprawled across a friends couch).

Not long ago I decided to get a few things accomplished around Miahuatlán for the weekend--clean, run some errands, eat at my favorite local spots, and just generally laze about with an afternoon libation or two.

Generally my afternoon drinks of choice are something to play around with. I may use a recipe for inspiration, but generally I just raid cabinets and refrigerators to concoct something interesting. Cucumbers, grapefruit, and gin;oranges and bourbon; capers and vodka; have been a few delightful combinations I've come across. A couple of weeks ago, I had it in my mind to make a traditional daytime libation, the bloody mary, but maybe give it a little twist.

I had been inspired to have a bloody mary when checking out at the grocery store. I needed to spend a little more money to meet my maximum coupon value (my job gives me little grocery store coupons as part of my salary, but they won't give you change. Therefore it has become my mission to spend every penny of each coupon with minimal out of pocket expense.) I was already purchasing tomato juice and the impulse items happened to include a small bottle of vodka.

Olives were easy to come by, but alas, I had no horseradish or worcestershire. I tried to amend for the missing horseradish by using my precious Sriracha (which I smuggled back after Christmas), to me it has a certain horseradish flavor to it--the same type of spice. To make up for a little extra saltiness I used some of the olive brine and soy sauce. It was pretty delicious, but I would like to have some worcestershire the next time I make it.

I'm not filling this out in true recipe form, because I think personal preference is very important especially when it comes to drinks--I may tend to like mine a little spicier and a lot vodkaier than most, plus to write it down as a recipe would mean I'd have to remember what measurements I used--and I don't.

Sriracha Bloody Mary "Outline"
Along with the tomato juice, vodka, sriracha, and olive juice, I splashed a little bit of soy sauce (if I had had it I would've used worcestershire too) in and a hefty squeeze of lime. garnish with celery, pickles, olives, cocktail shrimp, pickled green beans, cucumber. . .I saw a recipe that recommended making bacon salt (bacon grease + salt) to rim the glass. Doesn't sound too shabby, but I would probably end up sticking the slices of bacon and a curl of endive in--drinkable BLT.

Friday, March 20

Great Expectations and Yams

There are certain things that inevitably make me happy. Planning a trip somewhere new. Getting long emails from old friends. Eating trout in a lovely mountain-side shack. Seeing pictures of a frijolito looking shockingly human. Watching a hip, tough-looking twenty-something Mexican boy carry around his bag that says "Be the Prom Queen" (this one makes me happy over and over again).

I've been fortunate enough to have several of these pleasing moments this past week. Whether they were pleasant surprises, ridiculous things that cross your path, or the rare ones--a wave of inspiration that results in something that actually matches up to your imagination, they make me so satisfied and content.

Imagination and expectations have been something I've always reveled in and simultaneously struggled with furiously. Planning things (I think I've mentioned my obsessive party planning) and picturing the way things will be is half the enjoyment, but sometimes if the outcome doesn't match up it can be quite crushing.

When I was a kid, my family had this great alphabet cookbook that we got from sending in flour proofs of purchase (Gold Medal...? That's flour right?). It had an "A" is for Apple Pie recipe to alphabet breakdown accompanied by these fantastic illustrations that I would drool over.

"H" was for Honey Comb Cookies (or something to that effect) and had a picture of a beehive, drops of honey, and the most delicious-looking, golden cookies. They looked like the cookies that the Berenstain Bears were always eating and with the alphabet cookbook they were within my sweet-butter hungry reach.

I built up in my mind that these cookies would be everything I loved about honey and cookies--which was no small feat mind you. But with an illustration like they had and the Berenstain Bears' apparent enjoyment, how could they not be?

The cookies were made. They were soft, not crisp. They didn't carry the buttery honey crunch of which I'd dreamed. They did not remotely resemble the cookies that Brother and Sister Bear ate. It was crushing. I had dreamed of honeycomb transformed into something less messy and sticky and more buttery (almost like a honey shortbread. . .mmm which gives me another idea), but all I got was a bland, dark brown (couldn't even be called tarnished gold) rounds. I even had a real name, not just my familial relationship title, and I still couldn't get the cookies I wanted? That's when I first bitterly understood the obnoxious advice "I know it's not fair, but sometimes the world's not fair." Oh, didn't I know it.

Years later, when my friend Jess and I were touring London, I think I found what I was hoping for in those cookies in a British candy bar she introduced me too (and has my eternal thanks for). Even with this eventual resolution, since the early honey-cookie disappointment I've tried (and generally failed) to have a little restraint in my recipe hopes.

So last week when I had a couple of yams I needed to use up and decided to concoct a coconut curry around them, I tried not to get too carried away with my expectations.

The recipe was inspired by a butternut squash curry that my former filthy, Louisville-hippie mansionmate, Liz, would talk about. Not talk really, but have a Pentecostal-worthy spell about. I decided that the yams would be a nice starchy staple-substitute for the squash and could be balanced with some poblanos and calabacitas (similar to zucchini) to give it a little green and crunch.

My plan was initially bogged down by thick, syrupy coconut cream which I had purchased thinking it was coconut milk. I was able to remedy this by mixing a small ammount of the cream with some chicken stock to cut the sugar, but retain the coconut flavor, so keeping that in mind, use this recipe loosely, because I would recommend using coconut milk and maybe adding just a little honey. In spite of this setback, it turned out delightfully, I was incredibly pleased that it turned out as delicious as I'd imagined--serious catharsis for my experience with those damnable honey cookies.

Yellow Coconut Curry with Yams
4 Tbsp oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, chopped
4 chiles de arbol, crushed (keep the seeds--easiest to crush straight in the saucepan)
2 yams, peeled and cubed
2 poblano peppers, seeds and stems removed, cut into large chunks
2 medium zucchini (I'm not ready to introduce you to another "mystery" yet.), cut into chunks.
1 can of coconut milk*
1 C of chicken stock*
2 Tbsp honey*
3 Tbsp yellow curry powder
*like I mentioned, I accidentally purchased coconut cream and had to make adjustments for that--so dip your fingahs in and figgah out how much you need of what.

In a large saucepan heat the oil over medium heat. Add cloves, onion, and chiles. Saute for 1 minute. Add yams and saute for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep yams from sticking to the pan. Add the poblanos and zucchini saute for an additional 3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and turn heat to medium-low. Cook until yams are desired tenderness--15-20 minutes. Serve with rice and flatbread.

I didn't have any, but I think some basil would also go nicely in this dish, mmm and maybe some raisins and almonds. Oh man, I got to go eat!

Wednesday, March 11

Creamy Symbiosis

I've always enjoyed exercise, walking, running, bike riding, as long as I'm not being forced to do it. Here in Mexico I don't have a lot of time (or equipment) for most of those things, but I do often walk to or from work. Sometimes it is difficult to pull my little shoat body out of bed and get on that dusty road, though. I have never been much on motivation, but I think I'd just never found the right kind of motivation.

Recently, I have developed a ratio between the number of times I walk to school and the amount of ice cream cones I allow myself to buy that week.

The more I walk, the more ice cream cones I eat. It's probably fixed somewhere about 1:2 (1 being the walking of course), but I have alternate formulas for situations where I might walk twice in one day (it somehow gets me more ice cream). I think this revelation is going to replace the one all the textbooks use, about the little fish that cleans the big fish's teeth. Which is more appealing to you? Eating ice cream or whale plaque?

I don't know why it has taken me this long to develop the perfect symbiotic relationship. The dudes with their ice cream carts have been strolling around since I first moved here and I started walking between home and work not long after that. It may partly be due to my slowness to realize what a gem was being pushed along in front of me.

The first month or so that I lived here I tried to adhere to the "Things You Aren't Supposed to Eat in Mexico" rules. Then I remembered how boring and stupid rules are, unless it is a rule that is allowing me more of something instead of limiting something. I mean, I don't drink the tap water (neither do Mexicans for that matter), but who could really expect me to live here and not eat the cheese, the most delicious meats, and numerous fruits and vegetables? No way. I think I'd rather gets parasites. (Knock on wood that a future post isn't "So I Though I'd Rather Have Parasites. . . .")

I feel that ice cream was an odd carry over from my early, prudent days. I just kind of forgot I wasn't eating it much any more. (Don't ask how that happened--it boggles the mind). Don't worry, those days are far behind me.

My weekends spent in Oaxaca city always included a stop at these lovely neverias wedged between two churches. The ice cream is delicious, like the homemade ice cream we make at my parents in the summer, but with a larger and more exotic variety of flavors--queso, mezcal, pistache, melon, fresa, tuna (don't be disugsted, it is cactus fruit) it goes on and on. I sort of assumed, I don't know if it was because of the fanciful wrought iron chairs and umbrellas in creamy pastels, but somehow I became (only temporarily) one of those people that reserves a really good thing for a special occasion. Which is not an idea I support in the slightest. I must have been having some sort of identity crisis.

But then one fateful sunny day, all my foolhardiness came crashing down. I was hot and walking to work when I passed by an elderly man and a cart of frozen gold. I got a cone piled high with nuez (pecan) and limon (I'm not translating that for you) and this sweetest of all symbiotic relationships was born. It was every bit as delicious as the ice cream in Oaxaca and my dirt road to work was no less lovely than the curly metal tables.

Now you may be thinking, eating ice cream all the time in Mexico is all well and good, but I live somewhere where March is cold.

This is another foolish mindset that means one thing--less ice cream. Folks, I don't care if you are in a blizzard and your heater is broken, ice cream will still make everything better. Maybe you can create a symbiotic relationship of eating ice cream and scooping the driveway.

My family has used many delicious ice cream recipes over the years, but recently my sister discovered a fantastic one that uses cream cheese. It gives the ice cream a velvety texture and doesn't seem to melt as fast as other homemade varieties we've made, that turn soupy very quickly. I'm not sure if this is the exact one, but I have a lot of faith in Gourmet and their take on cream cheese ice cream. So if you don't see a wrinkled old man pushing a cart down your street, don't fret, just mix, freeze, and enjoy.