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.