Archive for the ‘food’ Category

tourism at home

September 13, 2009

We had a very eventful weekend with Adolfo’s brother and girlfriend, which included the Ballet of Jalisco, a ceramics studio in Tonala, Guachimontones and raiding the lemon tree down the street.

The Ballet was nice to see and I hope they get better and better. They are a very young company, only just formed in January, and their first show was canceled due to swine flu.  Of the four pieces, one was very nice and showed a lot of promise.  Three of the pieces were kind of painful to watch.  But, I think they show promise, some of the dancers were very good, and I hope the city continues to support them.

Yesterday, we traveled out to the suburbs of Guadalajara to Tonala, a town known for ceramics.  We got a tip from Adolfo’s father on how to find a ceramics studio and with a map were able to find our way to a plain-looking door leading into a small house.  In the entryway, we met two brothers whose father, Nicasio Pajarito, started their studio and they showed us the pieces on display.  As Adolfo’s brother and his girlfriend looked over the cups and water pitchers, Adolfo chatted with the brothers.  As they chatted, one of the brothers said to the other, “Well, looks like we aren’t going to sell anything today….” and Adolfo said “What are you talking about? We’re here to buy things.”  And, the brother explained, that since their father wasn’t in the shop today, they couldn’t sell any of his things.  Adolfo suggested they call the father, but they said he was out in the fields harvesting corn and wouldn’t be available.  Finally, they decided they could sell some of their own pieces, which were purchased with gusto.  We were able to see the kiln and the areas where they form and paint the pieces.  When Mom and Dad come to visit, we are going to return and see if we can get one of the sons to give us to a tour.

The day before that, we went to see the local pyramids!  We have pyramids!  Way over here in Western Mexico.  And, the best part is – they are circular.  Check it out. They were only just discovered in 1970 and the reconstruction/reparations began in 1999.  They are currently building a museum at the entrance and when we arrived there was almost nobody there.  It was much more green than the link shows, and maybe Adolfo will put his pictures up soon.  Guachimontones is only an hour from Guadalajara and a very easy day trip for some very interesting sights.

And lastly, we stop off at the lemon tree down the street and brought home about 30 lemons – and there are many more on the tree.  This weekend, while walking to Adolfo’s mother’s house, I passed the lemon tree and the gardener was outside raking leaves.  I stopped to talk to him and mentioned that the tree looked like it was ripe for the picking.  He agreed but said, “there’s a problem with this tree”  I said, “oh really?”  and he continued to explain that the problem with the tree is that it’s not a lime tree and it’s not an orange tree.  He said the owner doesn’t really like the fruit and I could have as much as I liked, whenever I wanted.  Apparently, the only thing this tree is good for is making “aguas” or fruit-waters, but even then you have to add a few oranges or it’s undrinkable.  So far, I have two quarts of preserved lemons in jars.  I made a bunch of lemonade, some lemon curd (and biscuits to go with) and still have five lemons left over.  I’ll be on the lookout for more lemon-based recipes.

Quite an eventful weekend.


September 5, 2009

Since we’ve been back from New York we have had new help around the house.  Previously, we employed a woman who came and cleaned (swept, mopped, washed dishes) and ironed once a week.  However, she is pregnant and decided to start leaving some of her jobs and offered to have her sister come work with us.  The sister came a couple times, but we didn’t click and the job wasn’t so good.

Now we have Paty.  Paty has been working for Adolfo’s mother since Adolfo was living at home.  Adolfo’s mother trained her to cook her recipes.  Already, she has made us picadillo, lengua en salsa roja, rice (mexican style), jamaica and the famous tomatillo and chile de arbol salsa. Also, Paty is really good at what she does.

There were some recipes which I’ve eaten at Adolfo’s mother’s house and really liked and was really excited to have Paty here once a week to cook some of these very mexican dishes.  One of the first ones I asked for was the lengua.

I went with her to buy the tongue (lengua), as I have never purchased tongue and had no idea what questions I would need to answer, how much to get, or how to recognize quality.  First of all, tongue is huge!  I thought we would be getting two or three and it would be about a kilo of meat.  No.  One was plenty and weighed about two kilos.  Also, it was frozen solid. Paty and the butcher agreed that tongue was always sold frozen.  I do not know why, when everything else at the butcher shop seems to be refrigerated, or not.  (Also, Adolfo says this is not true and he remembers buying tongue with his mother and it was not frozen.)  And, the one question the butcher asked was:  Hijo o padre? (Son or father?)  Paty opted for “hijo”, and I think I would have made the same choice on my own.

So, we took the giant, frozen tongue home and I went back to work and so did Paty.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to look over Paty’s shoulder while she was making the tongue, but she did give me a few tips while I was making excessive trips to the kitchen, for example:  the tongue is boiled for a couple hours and then it has to be cooled before you peel off an outer membrane, slice it and put it into the sauce, also it starts off pretty chewy and will soften the longer it cooks.

Later, for lunch there was lengua en salsa roja, as if by magic.  It is wonderful to have lunch just appear.  We are really happy to have Paty around and one of these days I will have less work and be able to hover while she cooks – I’m not sure Paty is looking forward to this day as much as I am.

New York City vs. Chicago

August 13, 2009

We made it back from New York on Monday and I’ve been very happy puttering about the house and neighborhood for the last couple days, getting myself back on track on the home front.

New York leaves me with conflicted feelings. I love that we got to see all the good friends and family there and eat good food. We wolfed down the food, flavors and ingredients we cannot find in Guadalajara – corned beef and pastrami sandwiches from Katz deli, herring from Russ & Daughters, hole-in-the-wall dim sum in Chinatown, Pakistani food and NY style pizza. We sat around the breakfast table with good people having good conversations. We went to bookstores and stocked up on books in English. It was a great vacation.

But, New York City always leaves me feeling melancholy. The first time it happened I was visiting friends in Brooklyn and I said to my friend Max, “I know they don’t feel sorry for themselves, but I feel sorry for the people who live here.” She responded, “You’re right, they don’t feel sorry for themselves.”

So, this visit I was prepared to like the city. We were staying with family and we had a low-key agenda (books and food, food and books). But still, I can’t shake the feeling. I feel sad in New York. I feel lonely and isolated in the congested city.  I don’t know what it is and have been pondering my reaction for days.

Chicago, on the other hand, was really special and surprising.  We were there last month after our trip to Missouri.  We were shocked by the super-friendly locals, to the point that we considered them somewhat ill or in recovery from the harsh winters.  Over and over again we were treated far nicer than the usual tourists.  A friend tried to confirm our theory with a local and was told it is absolutely not the case.  We still don’t know why they are so happy and friendly.

The food was very good, if you could find the right places.  The Publican, Sweet Maple Cafe and Hopleaf Bar being the stand out favorites.  The architecture was outstanding, we went on three different architecture tours.  There was public art everywhere and it was being used by the public.  The art museum was free on one of the afternoons while we were there and it was packed.  The parks were swamped with people.  We were happy just wandering around the city.

Now, back at home, I’m trying to get the garden back on track and the kitchen back into shape.  Most of the garden survived and we’ve been getting really violent thunderstorms for the last couple nights, so I hope the seedlings can hang on through the wind and hail.  We have visitors already marked on the calendar, but we have no plans for leaving the country for a while now.  It’s good to be home.

Lemongrass and peas, maybe

April 12, 2009

The garden is on the upsurge, once again.  I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on the gardenia and it seems to be thriving as long as I keep picking off the little bugs that gather at the blossoms.  The azalea seems to be suffering through all the wind that comes racing through the terrace at sunset and we will see if it ever blooms again.  So far, it’s putting out a nice amount of new foliage.  My free fern that came wrapped around the azalea has been putting up new fronds and as the new fronds unfurl, I’ve been clipping off the older browner leaves with the kitchen shears.

The rotation plan for the green onions is also doing really well.  Every time I pick one green onion, I push a new seed or two into the vacant soil.  I have four onions going at different stages of development.  The lettuce is once again in it’s last hurrah and I’m going to pull it up in the next few days.  However, I already planted the replacement lettuce and it is too small to eat, but coming along.

Last week, after several weeks of pondering, I broke down and bought the lemongrass plant I’ve been eyeing.  It was so root-bound I had to use the scissors to cut off some of the most offending masses.  I divided the plant, but put it in one large container.  Next time I do this I need to wear opera-length gloves, as I managed to slice up both arms to the elbow.

I also made it back to the horticulture store in the Centro.  Trips to the horticulture store are both exciting and disappointing.  I really want the people working there to be more knowledgeable.  But the seeds are so cheap, I feel like experimenting.  I ended up buying some peas and serrano chiles, I passed on the tomatoes for the moment.  The chiles were really an unnecessary expenditure.  I can get a few chiles every couple weeks for pennies at the abastos market.  Sometimes the venders even throw them in for free – I usually ask for three or four and it’s not worth the trouble to charge me if I’m buying other vegetables at the same time.  But, I’ve been wanting to have my own chiles and the plants can last for several years – if you treat them right.  Since a packet was only $5 pesos (~$0.40 US), I thought, why not give it a try.

I’ve purchaced peas a few times in the market and I decided after the last attempt to give up on the fresh peas.  They are old and square, starchy and hard.  These are not the peas I want to eat.  So now I have three pots with a pea seed in each and we will see what they do. The packet said the growing season was September to January.  This may be the practice round since I’m growing them out of season.  I know the weather has been extra warm and the peas shouldn’t like that, but the lettuce hangs on.

I wanted to know if they were going to need supports when I bought them and I asked the woman behind the counter, what kind of peas are these?  She replied: normal.

So, for more than one reason, I may need a practice run with these peas to see what I have and what they want.

I also asked about the tomato varieties and received unsatisfying answers.  Apparently, there are three kinds of tomato seeds:  round, oblong, and by the kilo.  hmmmm…..

The “by the kilo” seeds were also of the “round” variety.  I could see the labels on the seeds and wrote down the varieties so I could go home and look them up on the internet.  This is what I found: Flora Dade and Rio Grande.  Do you know anything about these?  I didn’t write down the “by the kilo” type since I have NO need for a kilo of tomato seeds.

I looked them up, and the descriptions used words like: firm, blocky and grown for market.  Other tomatoes are described as tasty or sweet and juicy.  These are not words used for Flora Dade or Rio Grande.  I am not convinced.

Other than the tomato mess, things are growing and growing and I’m excited to see what the peas will do.

Love of parchment paper

March 29, 2009

Many thanks to those of you who are feeding my parchment paper obsession.  I have recently been on a brownie kick and it also came in quite handy with some Pane di Como Antico from The Italian Baker book.

I found the perfect brownie recipe in The Fannie Farmer Baking Book, where I should have looked to begin with.  The latest recipe of Moist Chocolate Brownies were made with some chopped toasted almonds and amaretto.  The parchment paper makes life so much easier.  I can take the brownies right out of the pan and cut them on the cutting board, stack them on a paper plate and take them downstairs to the concierge, as a “get well soon” gift.  Not that brownies are necessarily going to help when you’ve cut your arm with a machete.  (He’s much better now and got the stitches out last week.)

Yesterday, I made the Pane Como again and it came out even better than the previous time.  And, I’m crediting the parchment paper.  I have a small problem with my ceramic bread form – it’s a little too short.  In the past I’ve had problems with the bread running off the edge and creating a little frown.

This time, I put it on a piece of parchment and in the bread mold.  Not only did I not need to grease the mold, the paper was longer than the mold and any run off was contained, and the bread browned better on the paper than in the form.  Success on all levels.

In non-parchment paper cooking news, I made a really interesting blood orange olive oil cake and with my excessive orange purchasing lately, it is easy and fast.  I’ve never seen blood oranges here, and when I asked a friend about them she was really confused.  I used regular juicing oranges and the cake was very tasty.  I may try the original recipe soon.

Also, I got a tip from one of Adolfo’s friends about a charcuterie near my regular supermarket.  I went yesterday and there was practically a line out the door.  Everyone was getting prosciutto and I got in line.  I was able to come home with some prosciutto, salami and Dutch Gouda.  I also tried the Chilean Gouda and it was obvious why it was significantly less expensive.  There were too many interesting options listed on their wall, so I will have to go back to try the pastrami (!), Gruyere, bacon, Camembert and other interesting goodies.

Olive Paste

March 22, 2009

I made this while dad was here visiting and he wanted the recipe:

1 c. sliced kalamata olives
1/2 clove of garlic
1 t. fresh thyme (approx.)
1/2 t. fresh ground pepper
2 anchovies
1 T. olive oil (extra virgin)

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process to the desired consistency.

We ate this on toast while Dad was here, but yesterday I made it again and spread on some pizza with onions and it was pretty good.

Many things

February 24, 2009

Well, many things have been happening and not much writing has been done.

I have been stalking the dried fava beans at the abastos market and I finally got up the nerve and bought about two cups.  Tonight, I made soup from my Diana Kennedy book and I think it turned out really good.  Sadly, I also found out that Adolfo detests dried fava bean soup and would not even try a bite.

My job has been kind of nuts lately, but mostly in a good way.  Hopefully, I will soon be planning a trip to Xalapa.

I went for the first round of wedding dress shopping, which was kind of horrible.  The first shop was comically horrible.  First, when the shop ladies found out I was shopping for a wedding dress, there were yelps and squeals of fake congratulations.  Then, I tried to explain that it would be a casual affair and I was not interested in dresses with sequins, rinestones, or other plastic crap.  She responded excitedly that it was “my day” and as the bride, no matter how casual, I was supposed to “shine” (with rinestones, apparently).

Also, a friend is beginning to study for the GRE and this morning we met to work on vocabulary.  We are thinking good thoughts about a Fulbright grant to the New School in NYC.

While all this is going on, I’ve managed to kill off a tomato plant and encouraged an aphid invasion.  So, the garden is not in tip top shape.

There are many more plans in the works.


January 7, 2009

I have been seeing these things in the food stalls around town and I just haven’t been able to figure them out. The food stalls here are very seasonal and I remember these things from last year.

They are green and steaming, appear to be a pod of some sort and sold in little bags. Usually the stand is also selling roasted peanuts. My first thought is fava beans, but I know that favas are called habas here. I asked Adolfo several times if they are habas and he always says no, but can’t tell me what they are – except that he doesn’t really like them… not unusual.

So, we recently had some visitors in town for a day and a half and they were also commenting on these things. And, finally, I was motivated to the dictionaries. First up, the International Gastronomic Dictionary in Spanish – no dice. Second, the Concise Oxford Spanish Dictionary (Spanish and English) – nothing. Finally, I looked in the Diccionario de Mexico. Jackpot!

Guasanas: Toasted green garbanzo beans that are sold in the streets of Jalisco.

Of course Adolfo doesn’t like them, he HATES garbanzo beans!

Now I’ve got to get my hands on some before the season ends.

Tamales and Clay Pots

January 1, 2009

The family came and went and we ate and ate and ate.  There was turkey and bacalao and romeritos with shrimp cakes and escargot and panela and sopes and on and on and on.  Adolfo and I are trying to radically shift our eating habits back into the norm, but we have so many leftovers in the fridge that we are still eating lots of meat and very few vegetables.

Yesterday a friend invited me over to her house to help make tamales for New Year’s Eve.  I grabbed a box of picadillo out of the freezer and headed over for the afternoon.  She did a couple things with the dough that I don’t remember seeing before, but that make a lot of sense.  The first is the addition of some baking powder.  I think this makes the dough steam up a little lighter.  And the second is the addition of some rice flour.  I’m not sure exactly what the rice flour does, but I like the end results.  She also added a few ice cubes to the mix while we were beating the lard and masa (dough) together.  Keeping the dough cold is probably good for the lard and makes for a slow addition of icewater, which was also needed.

In addition to the picadillo tamales, we made some of beans and cheese, pinapple and strawberry.  I haven’t tried the pinapple or strawberry, yet, but I’ve been promised a couple.  The dough turned out better than many tamales I have tried.  And, my friend’s son (14 mo. old) whipped through half a picadillo tamale before getting fussy and needing a nap.  I think that was an endorsement.

The other exciting thing that happened recently was that Adolfo and I happened upon an abandoned nursery with a crew of guys hauling stuff away.  We stopped and asked if we could take some of the left over pots and they said no problem as they were headed for the dump anyway.  So, I came home with seven new clay pots of various sizes and shapes.  I’ve already planted lettuce, radishes and onions and I’m making plans for the rest of them.

Happy New Year to you all.

I can smell it in the air

December 6, 2008

Well, it’s Christmas time here. How can you tell? Well, aside from the regular stuff like trees on top of cars going down the street, stores selling twinkly lights and the like, yesterday I saw salt cod in the supermarket.

Salt cod is traditionally made into a dish called Bacalao. And, like turkey is assigned a holiday. I’ve never had Bacalao at any other time of year. I’ve never made Bacalao before and in fact have never made anything with salt cod. However, I quite like the Bacalao that Adolfo’s mother makes for Christmas. So, when she asked if my family liked Bacalao for Christmas, I said, I don’t know, but I like Bacalao for Christmas.