Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Douchebaggery abounds.

Thanks Perez Hilton via Beckers.

Three words, my friends, three words: Gucci Tennis Shoes.
(Or should I say "Kate Plus 8"?)

No, I don't take the high road and look away when I see a nasty accident.
Is that so wrong? :)

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Can I Be a Cheese Head Please?: Cheese Curds & Wisconsin

Believe it or not, one of these lovely ladies is named Brenda!
I got this image

Because once upon a time a young lad from Detroit, Michigan proposed to a young lady from De Pere, Wisconsin , I was given the unexpected and exciting opportunity this weekend to head back to my fourth home (the 1st being Mexico, 2nd Texas, 3rd Italy): the American Midwest.

That's right, my friend Krista got married this weekend in one of the lovelier places I've visited of late: Door
County, Wisconsin. And can I just say, in the name of love and nuptial bliss, that her wedding was not only a touching tribute to the definite existence of soulmates, but also a damned good time: There was much lifelong promising, dancing and merrymaking, there was funk and awesomely fashionable feathery-hair-pieces, there was Moonlight Bay, and wooded cabins, and in truly Wisconsin style, there was cheese.

Before this, I would have drawn a cheese-filled blank had you asked me anything about Wisconsin. But having now returned from my weekend of all-things-cheese-head, I can officially and proudly present today's list.

* * *

Top 5 Reasons I Loved Wisconsin
or, 4 excuses to talk about number 1

squeak: like a mouse, like a cheese-curd.

5. Super-Posh-Outdoorsiness.
It could just be Door County, or it could just be that Krista has really good taste, but the reception location and the place we stayed was one of the most tastefully done "outdoorsy" places I've ever been. And I'm not talkin' (pardon the pun) cheesey log-cabin, lumberjack-flannel-outdoorsy.

manicured wilderness: the new camping.

The Gordon Lodge was like something out of the 50's, in a really good way, with the squeaky (there's that word again) clean look, attention to detail, and incorporation of the beautiful natural surroundings into the lodge itself.

It has free kayaks, row boats, a heated pool, and access to the lake via a really pretty dock; plus, every room or cabin has a little porch facing onto Lake Michigan. It's the kind of place campingly-divided couples can truly enjoy because it's clean and refined enough for the urbanite, and yet woodsy and outdoorsy enough for the nature-lover.
Bravo Gordon Lodge. Bravo. *slow intense clap with eyebrow raised*

4. Trees. Lots and lots of trees.
Arriving from London, or, really, England, with its manicured countryside and lack of forests (despite Robin Hood's claims), I was really mentally unprepared for all the trees there are in Wisconsin. That sounds, odd, yes, but what's really odd is the effect that nothing but open, grass-covered rolling hills can have on your natural memory.

But hey, Roman loves trees. He stares at them and gapes at them and smiles at them. And it's not just because he likes them that I like them. There's something calming and beautiful about a real forest. And in Wisconsin you get the real thing - trees as far as you can see. The underbrush is short, so they're just calling out to be walked-among, hidden behind, camped-about.

For once in my Girl Scouting life, I did not scoff at the saying "hug a tree."
And this from a serial scoffer.

3. Lake Michigan
I have an issue with lakes. It grosses me out that when you first walk into the water you feel like you just stepped into a pile of mushed up bananas. It freaks me out that once you're finally in, you can't see what the heck you are stepping in or on or swimming around. The plants tickle your legs in an eery manner that makes me feel like a giant fresh-water eel is about to bite me and then gnaw on my leg until I fall over, falling face first in the muddy brown broth. Sooo, I generally avoid them.

But this weekend in Wisconsin was different, because the moment I took a look at Lake Michigan I wanted to jump in.

Give me Lake Michigan or give me...a pool. :)

This is no Chicago-side lake. The water is blue. And clear. Let me just repeat that: the water was clear. Only twice in my life have I seen clear water like that - once in another life in Priest Lake, Idaho, and this weekend in dubya-eye. Like in Idaho, the water was freezing, but that would not have stopped me from swimming in that lake. I only wish I'd had a spare moment and no infant along, as I would have shamelessly basked like a lovely little swan in Lake Michigan.

2. Cheese-head hats.
So, I think these hats are decidedly underrated for one reason and one reason alone: everyone looks great in them -- if by great you understand that I mean ridiculously hilarious. And of all the people who look great in cheese-head hats I would have to say both Brenda the cheese-curder (from the title picture above) and Father Aaron (aka my old college friend who is now a priest and said the homily at Krista's wedding) rank pretty darn high. Aaron was given a slightly unorthodox version of the cheese-head hat: a yellow-foam sombrero that, I exaggerate not, would have worked splendidly for serving chips and "queso." :)

For your "infoamation," there are many other varieties of cheesehead hats in case a sombrero is not your slice of cheddar. Should've gotten one for Roman.

1. Cheese Curds
After 3 days talking everyone's ear off about wanting to try cheese curds, I finally got my wish. But I had to work for it. My friend Leah offered to give me a ride from Door County to Chicago, and on our way home we vowed to stop at the highly acclaimed Renards.

Sadly, Renards does not open on Sundays - in fact, Sunday is the ONLY day it doesn't open! So we were left SOL. We next stopped at a gas station where I ended up in a conversation with two of the workers and a random guy getting gas regarding where else I could get good cheese curds. Renards was thrown out there, and so was some place in Kewanee, but the last place they mentioned sounded too good to pass up: Mars' Cheese Castle.

Never too early to introduce them to good cheese-curds,

On the border of Illinois and Wisconsin lies a Wisconsin-made-food-product-lover's heaven: Mars' Cheese Castle is a giant store with a giant sign dedicated to promoting and selling all the best of Wisconsin's cheese products. As tempting as it was to buy some beef jerky, or cheese spread, or a beer-shaped piece of cheddar, they had a whole section dedicated to cheese curds and I made a shameless run for it. Sadly, they were all out of fresh cheese curds (except for one pack of Jalapeno flavored ones, but I wasn't feeling it) by the time we got there, but I got a delicious bag of assorted prepackaged curds that really hit the spot.

And sadly, no, they didn't squeak. But I did. :)

* * *

PS: Yay for Roman's first visit to the USA! :)
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Amor a la Mexicana: my love affair with Huevos Rancheros

A typical Mexican breakfast: big on color and flavor

As a tribute to my recent visit to Mexico, here's a post I wrote a while back, which has been simmering in my food-obsessed mind and deals with a dish that goes back to the earliest of my fond food memories.

* * *

When I first met Matt, he (unknowingly) taunted me with stories of his family's dedication to
something highly valued by little old me - homemade breakfasts. Every night his mom boiled the potatoes ahead of time for homemade hash browns. In the morning, it was as if a fairy had magically and effortlessly done the work. The table brimmed with a veritable cornucopia of goodies: a pot of steamy American coffee, eggs any-style, toast with real butter, homemade jam, sometimes (and probably often) delicious homemade scones. The list goes on.

Suddenly, 22 year-old-unmarried-me started to panic. Should I learn to make sc
ones?! Was this a deal breaker?! (That is what I get for getting involved with a gringo!) My sister and I had grown up eating cereal for breakfast every day during the week. It was only on the weekends that my parents had the time to go "all out" (and "all out" they went!) with the breakfast thing. Besides, up until the ripe age of sixteen, I had never even heard of a scone (and the only reason I found out what it was, was because a quirky viola player made some for the high school orchestra bake sale and I, of course, stole one).

When I thought of delicious breakfasts I couldn't esca
pe my roots: Mexico.
My thoughts were of delicious corn tortillas underneath freshly fried eggs, with homemade refried beans and my dad's salsa roja smothering the entire plate. I thought of tongue-numbing chile con queso (the real Mccoy, not that orange stuff you get at the local Tex-Mex joint) made with fresh queso Oaxaca and charred tortillas warmed on the comal. My mother's molletes came to mind - bolillos (Mexican white, French-style rolls) smothered in butter, beans and
cheese and then baked, to later be topped with homemade salsa or pico de gallo. Migas, chilaquiles, Machaca, Huaraches, a fresh papaya salad and fresh squeezed orange juice...the list goes on. I wasn't going to bake scones for my kids (well, unless Matt really insisted)!
Since then, we've come a long way in melding our early morning tastes. Matt eats tortillas and loves refried beans (as long as they have plenty of cheese on them), and I learned to make pancakes from scratch and even put a little butter on my toast. Still haven't made scones, but with two men in the house, my guess is that will come soon too. :)

But of all the Mexican breakfasts I treasure (and let's be honest, there are many), there is one that still and always will stand out in my mind as the proverbial "holy grail" of M
exican breakfasts. It is the only thing I can say I've consistently eaten without fail my entire life, and will probably continue to do so as long as there is breath in me. It is the first thing I learned to order on my own in a restaurant (at the age of 2) and, to this day, is enough reason to make me get up and cook on a weekend: Huevos Rancheros.

I can't tell you how many times this dish has been butchered unnecessarily at even the most reputable of breakfast and brunch restaurants (including "Mexican" ones). It's enough to make me shake my fists at the sky.

*much shakeage of little angry Brenda fists*

When it comes to Huevos Rancheros, it's three strikes you're out in my book of Mexican authenticity. A sample list of possible strikes:
Strike 1: Flour tortillas
Strike 2: Marinara-like salsa
Strike 3: any form of chili powder
Strike 4: Orange cheese (e.g. cheddar-jack cheese medley)
Strike 5: Cumin in ANY quantity

Yuck. And worse still is, all the ignoramuses (ignorami?) assuming that's actually what people in Mexico eat for breakfast and either turning their noses up at it or believing the Mexican palate is that much like theirs! There is a time and place for Tex-Mex and I will be the
first to admit it. But that time and place is not at my breakfast table when there are good corn tortillas in the fridge just begging to be eaten.
Here's my (Mexican!) family's way of making Huevos Rancheros. While the dish can be labor intensive because it requires making of beans and salsa ahead of time, once you have all the components, it's a breeze to make. And if you're pressed for time, there's NOTHING wrong with most canned pinto beans which you can then mash and refry.

* * *

Huevos Rancheros
the real deal, my friends

Serves 2

Breakfast at my house.

Even as a two or three year old (who, of course, learned to talk WAY before she learned to walk), I was an early riser with only one thing on her mind: food. I would toddle my way to my mom's bedroom and gently - but persistently - shake her awake demanding "mi huevito." To her credit, my mother, was good enough then to always get up and make me the following delicious little meal to start the day right. She still does the same thing when I'm home even now. For the grown ups, either red or green salsa will do. Just don't forget to make it fresh!
Some people like to garnish the dish with sliced avocado. We also sometimes add a side of warm Mexican rice from the night before. You can also substitute scrambled eggs if you don't like fried (sunny-side up), but I think part of the greatness of this dish is how the yolk runs into the salsa, runs into the beans, runs into the eggs. It's a melding of flavors uniquely Mexican and its heartiness is guaranteed to tie you over until the next culinary dalliance strikes.

4 tbsps corn oil
4 large eggs
4 corn tortillas
1/2 cup shredded Queso Oaxaca (substitute: shredded mozzarella)
or crumbled Cotija (substitute: feta)

1 batch homemade red or green salsa
1 batch homemade refried beans

salt & pepper to taste


1. Heat half the oil in a medium non-stick pan over medium heat. Fry 1 or 2 of the tortillas (depending on the size of the pan), allowing them to heat through with oil (flimsy) but not allowing them to become crisp. Repeat for the second batch of tortillas, laying them on the serving plate as shown here:

Tortillas should be slightly flaccid, but start to firm up on the edges.

2. Add the remaining oil to the pan and crack the first two eggs into it. Fry the eggs without breaking the yolk and without turning them over. Using a spatula or spoon, gently splash some of the hot oil onto the eggs while they cook so that the top area gets cooked too. Season with salt and pepper. Once the whites are opaque and slightly golden-y crispy and the yolks look firm (but NOT opaque) serve onto the tortillas (one egg per tortilla). Repeat for second batch of eggs.

Not quite done. The whites are still too translucent and not golden.

3. Reheat your refried beans in a separate small pan. Add a dash of water if necessary and bring them to a rapid boil, seasoning as you see fit with salt and pepper. Do not allow the beans to thicken too much - Mexican refried beans tend to be a little runny.

4. Once the eggs have been cooked, pour the red salsa into the hot pan and fry it, bringing it to a quick boil and adding salt if necessary.

5. Pour the hot salsa over the eggs on the plates. Serve a helping of beans on the opposite side of the plate and scatter the fresh cheese (I prefer the stringy Oaxaca, but the salty, feta-like Cotija is also a great choice if you can get it!) allowing it to melt from the heat of the beans.

Serve and consume immediately and greedily.

¡Buen Provecho!

Breakfast at mom's house

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Apfelstrudel: An Autumnal Kiss Goodbye to Summertime

I always unabashedly salivate over good Granny Smiths.

Whether I like it or not, the fall is definitely here. It fell into place sometime while I was blissfully basking in the Mexican sunshine and now there's no going back (well, ok, maybe there is - I leave for Texas and Wisconsin on Monday morning and plan to entirely indulge in the 90 degree weather the former has to offer). The cardigans are out, the wind has changed, and the leaves, unbelievably enough, have started to turn. So I said to myself: Why not just embrace it this year rather than mourning the summer and whining about the impending winter? After all, Fall is the perfect time to "turn over a new leaf," dontcha think?

(that would be my lame drum/symbal combo for my lame Fall joke in case you couldn't tell)

I've been to Vienna thrice. Twice in the summer and once in the Fall. There are few places this applies to but I will say it unequivocally about Vienna: it is a delightfully autumnal city.

Vienna shines best when the leaves are orangey-red and the air is crisp, clear, and the baroque Viennese architecture glows naturally, richly, warmed by the maturing, aurulent world around. Vienna is best when the breezes seem to be singing mozart, hidden violins and cellos and harpsichords streaming from slightly opened windows, and it's still not too cold to roam the cobbled streets to admire the Stephansdom or stroll the grounds of the beautiful Hapsburgian Schönbrunn (and yes, I do know calling it "beautiful" is redundant) while munching on Mozart Kugeln.

Yes, and most importantly, Fall in the Austrian capital is the perfect time to stop off at a cafe for a Viennese Coffee and some Sacher Torte, for deliciously sweet warmth on a plate. But if you're not a Sacher Torte kind of girl (or guy, for that matter), then the fall with its heavy orchards, is the perfect time to eat Apple Strudel, one of Austria's national dishes. Which is why I, in the forceful throws of Autumn's beginnings in London, have chosen to offer up a recipe for a slightly unorthodox but nevertheless delicious little kiss goodbye to my dear old summertime.

* * *

In my best attempt to rationalize what is simply intrinsic whimsy and overzealous tastebuds
, I will try to explain why I decided to make Apple Strudel today:

4 Random Reasons Why I Made Apple Strudel Today
(instead of a million other things I felt like eating)

4. Baking puts me in an autumnal mood and I figured I'd better jump into it head first seeing as the weather already has!

3. It gave me an excuse to familiarize myself a little more with Phyllo pastry. Having had many a run-in with bad Baklava, and knowing that Strudel has its roots in that dessert, I figured I'd see what the fuss was all about.

2. I dislike pastries as a general rule (except for Pain Au Chocolat, which I can eat in copious amounts at any time and any place, preferably toasted), and thought maybe if I baked it myself I might like it better. It worked - I do like it slightly better now - but I still wouldn't order Apple Strudel at a restaurant over, say, brownies, chocolate cake, sticky toffee pudding or even apple pie (which I don't like very much either).

1.Most importantly, though, Matt loves pastries, so I figured I'd throw the good old husband a bone of love while simultaneously getting my bake-on. :)

* * *

Viennese Apfelstrudel
of the somewhat unorthodox persuasion
adapted from this recipe

Serves 8

Note of warning and explanation on the proclaimed unorthodoxness of this Strudel:
I love this recipe because of the copious layering of sugar, nuts and butter. I guess apparently real apple strudel is traditionally made without nuts, but I love nuts, so I went there. When you choose to use nuts the "right ones" to use are walnuts, almonds or pinenuts. Naturally, I used pecans and hazelnuts instead, which may or may not be considered blasphemy by certain purists. You've been warned. I also did not add cinnamon because I'm not a huge cinnamon fan in pastries - I didn't find the strudel lacking in that department. Oh, and I was tempted to use cranberries instead of raisins but held back because Matt complained. He won that battle. This time.


3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
6 Granny Smith apples (about 2 - 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, cored and chopped
1/2 cup plus 11 tablespoons mixed equal parts white and brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins (or cranberries if you're cool)
1/4 cup hazelnuts, coarsely chopped,
1 1/4 cup pecans; 1/4 cup coarsely chopped, 1 cup finely chopped

6 (17x13-inch) sheets phyllo pastry or twelve 14x9-inch sheets phyllo pastry, thawed if frozen

1. Melt 1/4 cup butter in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and sauté until tender, then add 1/2 cup sugar and the salt; stir until sugar is dissolved, about 1 minute. Add raisins and cook until almost all liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes.

2. Remove mixture from heat and stir in coarsely chopped pecans and hazelnuts. Spread the apple mixture evenly onto a baking sheet and allow to cool completely in the fridge.

3. Meanwhile, double-line another baking sheet with parchment paper and melt the remaining 1/2 cup butter in a small dish.

4. Transfer 1 large phyllo sheet to the lined baking sheet (if using small phyllo, place 2 sheets of phyllo on baking sheet, overlapping slightly). Brush lightly with melted butter. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar mixture and 3 tablespoons finely chopped pecans. Repeat with 4 more large phyllo sheets (or 8 more small sheets), melted butter, sugar, and pecans. Top with remaining phyllo sheet; brush with butter.

Phyllo dough, b
utter, nuts and sugar...mmmm....

5. Spoon the cooled apple mixture lengthwise down the phyllo, starting 3 inches in from 1 long side and leaving 2-inch border at short sides. Using the parchment paper as an aid, roll up the strudel lengthwise and seal with melted butter.

6. Place the strudel, seam side down, on the parchment. Tuck in the ends to enclose the filling. Brush the entire strudel with butter and sprinkle with the remaining sugar.

7. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the strudel until golden brown, about 35-40 minutes. Cool 15 minutes. Using a serrated knife, cut into 8 slices.

Serve warm with a big old scoop of vanilla ice cream. :)
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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Beauty of being a Mexican.

Life is like a piñata (Mercado de la Cruz, Queretaro).

We're back from Mexico! Mexico! Mexico! and even after two weeks of settling back in to the quiet, predictable and very autumnal life here in London, I'm not quite ready to relinquish the feeling of aestival, gluttonous enjoyment I experienced while back in the land of my birth for the first time in four years.

Four years. An interesting number. Namely because I was about that age when I left the world of Nopales, Limones, Piñatas, Aguacates and Papaya - nearly 25 years ago now. For me, Mexico has always and always will be intrinsically linked with vivid, synesthetic memories of food and gaiety - friendly family meals and get-togethers void of that stereotypically WASP-y awkwardness and forced propriety I've had to adjust to on many an occasion at friend's houses or other family's houses in my life living as an American.

Awkward to say it - "Living As An American." I am American. I have the Passport and lack of accent to prove it and so many of my friends who know I was "technically born in Mexico" often say to me (as if this should make me feel proud): "You're not Mexican!" "You're not Latin!" Mexican is, after all, kind of a dirty word to most people, it seems.

Also, I guess to them the transformation is just that complete - and I must admit that sometimes it is to me as well. And yet, something inside me simply cringes at their "kind" disassociation of me with the dark-skinned delivery boys on bikes in NYC, or the desperate illegals crossing the Rio Grande, or the short, fat, black-haired kid in English class who brings tortillas with his lunch and speaks Spanglish. I can't say it is really entirely flattering or a point of pride for me; in fact, it flat-out bothers me. I am - shockingly enough, to some - as Mexican as all of them.

But I always forget why this bothers me until I go back to Mexico. Until I see my family, see my country, eat the food, and smell the air. It's like breathing in the smell of your childhood
blanket. An oddly familiar, oddly comforting sensation that leaves you feeling like you've reconnected with a part of yourself you thought was forever lost. And it's a joy. A joy I get every single time I go back to my country - well, my first country -, even after all this time.

I've complained, preached and even ranted on many an occasion to the proverbial choir (my husband and family) and every other person who will listen (maybe I should grab a soap box and hang at Hyde Corner? :)) about unfair prejudices, racism and stereotypes I've encountered and proven wrong. I've made it my goal to "show them by example" as my mother always told me was my responsibility as an immigrant, and in my own way, I've had success. But it's difficult to live in one country, have grown up in another, and been born in still another - your identity becomes something like a piñata. Every time life hits you with something, you're not quite sure what will come out of you in return: candy, fruit, confetti or rotten nuts. :) I suppose sometimes the confusion and bittersweet nostalgia that comes with being different is one of the loveliest treats - however unpredictable it makes it - in life. I'm glad to be able to some day share it with Romanorum Master Forum.

Here are some images from our recent trip that, to me, encapsulate just a tiny speckle of the beauty that is being a Mexican - yes, a Mexican. :)

Aguas Frescas: Mango, Jamaica y Limon

Buganvileas, everywhere

unapologetic Catholicism

breathtaking, human-scaled architecture

fresh produce & amazing markets as far as the eye can see

unabashed color

fresh corn tortillas on every corner

fresh fruit paletas made with real fruit

a zillion chiles, for flavor not just heat

taco stands - cheap and delicious every time

a certain aesthetic that I just love

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