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.