Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Proud American

"She's African."
"Africa's a big place, can you be more specific?"
"She's Ethiopian."

In this example dialogue, we see the difference between continental identity and national identity. Kenny and I have been taking Spanish classes, and one of the classic introductory exercises is talking about where you are from. Our luminous instructor Maria states, "I am from Mexico. I am Mexican." Now it's our turn, "I am from the United States. I am... American...?"

It's hard to look a Mexican in the eye and say "I am American", as we do share the continent. I think it's wild that the English language doesn't have an adjective to describe someone or something as being from the United States of America. (England, Great Britain...English, British). I asked Maria if such a word exists in Spanish -it does! United States translates to "Estados Unidos" and the adjective version is "Estadounidense". I guess that would be "Unitedstatesan" in our language? Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

It makes me rethink terms like "African-American" and "Mexican-American". But don't worry, I won't rethink too hard about it.

Our class of six had three Germans and three Unitedstatesans, including Kenny and me. We learned a lot about our cultural differences. Maria asked each of us what we "do" and what our life goals are:

German #1: I am a flight-attendant. I want to be happy.
German #2: I work in a chemical plant.
German #3: I study economics, and I want to save the world.

US Citizen #1: I studied literature... I've been out of school for about a year...
German #3 (perplexed): Yes, but what do you do? Do you want to write a book?
US Citizen #1: Nah, I don't really want to write... I'm thinking of going to Grad School...
Maria: Maybe he'll become a teacher. Kenny, you're next.
Kenny: I want to own a vegetable farm.
PJ's eyes: What??
Maria: Where will that be?
Kenny: Mexico, or maybe California.
PJ: Wow Kenny, will this farm have a restaurant?
Kenny: Yes.
PJ: I don't have a job, but I want to be an artist.

In conclusion, Germans have their shit together, but US Citizens have more fun.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The PEOPLE! UNITED! Can Never Be...

Defeated? Divided? I don't remember, but whatever they're saying in Spanish rhymes beautifully. I joined a massive political protest today and played the role of "curious journalist" as I snaked through the crowd. I'm not sure exactly what it was about this time, but the chanting and collective energy brought me right back to San Francisco in March of 2003! We've learned that the utility unions (such as electricity) often flex their power in the streets and paralyze the main traffic arteries downtown. Many locals actually get annoyed with how many protests there are, but I find it kind of refreshing. The march culminated in the Zocalo, where I saw banners saying something about "telefonistas", so maybe it has to do with the phone company? I'll find out tomorrow from the real journalists...

"Yes We Can!"

Someone had the foresight to ensure monuments wouldn't be wheat-pasted or graffiti'd. (Saran Wrap, click image to enlarge.)

I still can't figure out the message, but they did scare me a little. Points for creativity.

Of course, the highlight of my protest experience was discovering a new favorite curb-side snack: one enormous tortilla chip smothered with refried beans, with cilantro, cactus, salsa, and cheese thrown on top. I loved it -you get to eat your plate.


Monday, November 9, 2009


Huitlacoche, also known as corn smut, is a fungus that grows inside the ears of corn and is a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine. The fungus usually enters the plant through the ovaries (young immature kernels) where it starts to grow large, distorted, mushroom-like tumors in place of where the kernels grow. In recent years the shroom has been hyped up in the US culinary world, where its been given the name Mexican Truffle.

A couple years ago my friend Kevin introduced it to me and I had it once or twice in restaurants, but it always seemed overpowered or in too little quantity for me to really get a sense for what it’s all about. Saturday night I ordered a huitlocoche quesadilla from a street vendor, a sweet sweet mother and son team using really fresh ingredients. The filling, an inky black paste with a couple loose strands of corn silk, was earthy but extremely mild. I knew I had to cook with this ingredient myself to really understand it.

The next morning Ricardo took us to the Mercado San Juan, the Gourmet market. Every neighborhood has its own Mercado- a huge bustling indoor market with produce stands, butchers, florists, crafts, and diner-style food. The Mercado San Juan, which is a little expensive, carries things I haven’t seen in other mercados, let alone anywhere else ever. This is where I found huitlacoche. At one stand, a woman was selling the whole infected cob, with a window removed from the husk to show off the swollen grey mass. I settled for a cheaper vendor selling a pack for 20 pesos.

The texture of raw huitlacoche is nothing like any other mushroom. It seems to be more succulent, containing more water, possibly because the fungus matter is corn, enlarged diseased kernels, corn plant cells. At the same time the interior of these growths are dry, filled with dark powdery spores. The growths are smooth and brittle, but slightly tougher towards their base. One of the most unusual things about this product is its color. Light grey is rarely appetizing.

I knew the flavor of huitlacoche is delicate, when I tasted it raw it was virtually tasteless. I cooked it in a traditional way, chopping it small and sautéing in butter with onion and garlic. Towards the end I added a bit of chopped fresh epazote, a fairly strong herb used here in Mexico that has a wild flavor like tarragon crossed with gasoline. The huitlacoche seemed to take ten minutes of cooking to develop the right flavor, all the while turning a deeper black in color. It tasted slightly sweet and earthy like the mud on a fresh Maine clam. The most unusual thing about it was the balance of being so delicately flavored with the feeling of intense richness in the mouth.

In addition to the huitlacoche (by the way this translates as “raven shit”) I cooked some button mushrooms with adobo sauce. They were spooned onto delicate freshly hand made corn tortillas by PJ and topped with his avocado cream. Another sauce of chipotle-tomato brought the heat. There was also kale sautéed with cumin.

huitlacoche on the right

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

cooking post

These are attempts to recreate some basic local dishes.

Chilaquiles. Tortilla Chips softened in salsa roja topped with egg, crema, onion.

Corn, mayonnaise, queso, lime juice, chile piquin, cilantro.

Pinto Bean Enchilada. The sauce is roasted onions, tomatoes, poblanos, and garlic pureed with chipotle, cilantro, and lime juice. (It's essentially the sauce I've been making for every dish this week.)

TLACOYOS. Fresh masa (corn) dough is folded around refried beans. We bought a tortilla press today.

Topped with salsa roja, nopales (cactus pads), spinach and queso.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mindscrapers: Part 2

This building is called "Tree Tower"