Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Huevos al gusto:

Poached and on top of lentils and brown rice with avocado, pureed roasted poblano, crema, and olive oil.

Fried with a basil leaf. The green underneath is Quintonil (amaranthus hybridus), an inexpensive leafy green abundent during rain season. A varietal of Amaranth, it is very nutritious and has a flavor similar to kale.

Topping a stew of bayo beans and chard with pumpernickel bread.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Dancing Park

There's a park a few minutes walk from our house with outdoor dance classes and live music. The atmosphere is completely surreal. You're in a mind-warp of at least 3 songs playing simultaneously with a group of dancers for each one. Here's some video I took over the last few weeks.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

7,350 ft bread

Mexico City fills a highland basin surrounded by mountains and two volcanoes. The average elevation of the city is 7,350 ft above sea level, which is comparable to Aspen or Vail. This kind of Altitude has significant effects on the human body including decreased oxygen intake and dehydration. Some common symptoms felt by visitors to high altitudes such as the D.F.'s include tiredness, reduced appetite, headaches, and the inability to sleep well. Although the body acclimates itself to these changes within a week, inside the kitchen is a different story.

The same factors of high altitude that affect our bodies create various problems in cooking and baking as well. At 2,000 feet above sea level, low atmospheric pressure begins to affect baking/cooking in three ways. As elevation increases, the boiling point of water gets lower, liquids evaporate faster, and leavening gases expand more quickly.

Under standard atmospheric conditions, water boils at 212 degrees F at sea level and drops one degree every 500 ft increase in elevation. In Mexico City, it boils around 197 degrees. When water boils at a lower temperature, it takes longer to cook food in it. For example, pasta and rice seem to take twice as long. Many people here boil potatoes in a pressure cooker, they just never seem to get soft enough otherwise. The pressure cooker or "olla express" has been indispensable for cooking dried beans. It literally takes 20 minutes to get a perfectly soft texture and slow-cooked flavor that might take six hours in a normal pot.

Moisture evaporates faster at high elevations. When water evaporates rapidly from a batter or dough, it changes the ratio of liquids to solids. In baked goods, the structure can be weakened by too high a concentration of sugars and fats, causing them to set slowly, have a course texture, or collapse. Lately I've been making bread. Moisture retention in the beginning of the bread baking process is very important. Not only does more liquid in the dough make a more interesting, varied crumb and crust, but its important to keep the surface moist and elastic so it can expand to its fullest. Before I put my dough in a blazing hot Le Crueset, I spritz the pot down to create more steam and bake it for the first twenty minutes with the lid on. I then take the lid off and cook it for thirty to forty more minutes, but still I can't get a good enough browning on the crust (even at 500 degrees). Apparently this is because the faster evaporation of moisture lowers the temperature on the surface of the bread, inhibiting the caramelization of sugars.

In the proofing stage when yeast feeds on the carbohydrates or sugars in the dough, it's byproduct is carbon dioxide. Our altitude's lower atmospheric pressure allows the gas to expand more rapidly, causing bread to over-proof in too little time. Its desirable to have a longer and slower fermenting process because it produces a better, more complex tasting bread. Following the original bread recipe, I was letting my dough proof for twelve to eighteen hours. I think that I may have been missing the window for baking because there has been very little rising in the oven. Some things I can do to prolong the proofing time is to use less yeast, more salt (a yeast retardant), and to keep the dough in the refrigerator after the initial rise.

As scientific as this is, my goal is still just about finding the best outcome with the easiest process (I hardly measure the ingredients), and to get my technique down on making the already very forgiving no-knead bread. It was 2006 when I first heard of this recipe popularized by Mark Bittman of the New York Times, but I never tried it. I did plenty of baking at my restaurant job but baking at home was something I didn't do. Probably because out of the three years in Philly and the three different houses I lived in, I never had a working oven in my kitchen. Now that I do have an oven, I'm faced with the challenge of baking at 7,350 ft. Try this recipe at sea level and let me know how it goes: No-Knead Bread

Whole wheat bread with cranberries, pecans, pepitas, anise seed, and cinnamon.


Saturday, August 21, 2010



36 Hours in Mexico City

I was scrolling through my cell-phone contacts last Monday, and I came across a "MoniMichelle". Who? Oh yes, that's right. A nice French girl gave me this number in a drunken conversation we had at a party over the weekend. The French girl (whose name escapes me) teaches French language at a nearby college, and MoniMichelle is her boss. She told me that they're always looking for new teachers...

So, I dialed the number before I could over-think.
"Hello, may I please speak to MoniMichelle?" (Is that even a real name?)
"This is MoniMichelle. Who is speaking?"
"Hi, I'm Felipe or Philip, really. A French girl gave me your number. She teaches French at your school..."
"What's her name?"
Oh shit, "Um, I forget. I met her at a party... Do you need any English teachers?"
"Actually yes, please send in your CV..." She rattled off all this stuff I couldn't understand, and I was running out of things to say in Spanish, so I cut her off-
"Can we meet in person?"
We made an appointment for Tuesday at one o'clock. A real job interview!

The next morning, I left the house with plenty of time to spare wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants (a step up from the usual tie-dyed rags hanging off my body). It only took five minutes to walk there, so I had about twenty-five minutes to pace outside and get nervous. The reception desk looked more like airport security, and I actually had to give them my passport in exchange for a visitor pass.

I sat down with MoniMichelle's secretary, Irma, and explained to her that I've been teaching private English classes for the past few months and would love to work in a school. She glanced over my thin CV and then laid it out for me,
"We might need you to start tomorrow morning. Come back at 6 o'clock and give a sample class to members of the faculty. You can teach the idiomatic future or the simple past."
The idiomatic future? What? I told her I'd do the simple one. We said our goodbyes, and after looking me up and down, she added,
"You see those guys over there? You should dress more like them. We have a dress code."

With an optimistic adrenaline blast, I charged home and hit the internet. I had three hours to produce a grammar lesson complete with handouts, activities, and exercises. And more importantly, I had to feel confident in the material and over-all terminology. How do you start teaching the past tense? When do you use it, Why?
Did you call Maria?
I didn't call Maria.
I called Maria.
I managed to put together a cohesive lesson plan and had it printed out at the shop downstairs. But before heading back to the school, I picked out a new ensemble from our wedding reception tool-kit (dress shirt, dress pants, and loafers).

Thankfully, I taught my sample class to only one faculty member, Oscar. And after I got over the initial nervousness, I felt like I belonged at the front of a classroom. The hardest part was fumbling at the whiteboard. My hand-writing is huge and ugly, and I'm totally dyslexic! Oscar gave me a rosy review and said that he would call in the morning with my next step. Based on his enthusiasm, I sensed that it was a done deal.

Tomorrow morning never came, no phone call. I waited a couple of days and eventually dragged my feet back over there just to confirm my darkest worry. And that's the sad story of how I almost became a university professor in 36 hours. The whole whirlwind experience felt like a reality TV competition dream. I didn't win and then I woke up.



Sunday, August 8, 2010