Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Movie Review: El Infierno

El Infierno is the first Mexican-made movie we've seen in theaters. The basic plot line is that a middle-aged man, Benny, returns to his hometown in northern Mexico after being deported from the US. He'd been away for twenty years, and now in 2010, the town is a hot-bed for drug-related crime and violence. Benny needs work and unwillingly gets involved with a drug-trafficking mafia that he can't escape. The over-all tone of the film begins campy and comedic, painting an exaggerated portrait of corruption and lawlessness in the north. For example, a catholic bishop wearing sunglasses accepts a bribe to bless Benny's new gun. But as the brutal acts of violence accelerate and intensify, it's not funny anymore. People are scalped, shot point blank in the head, and then decapitated. Their bodies are left on the side of the road like garbage with their arms and legs bound together. Almost all the characters wind up dead, including the children. These images resonate so deeply because it's what we see in the papers everyday about drug violence in the north. I've never been more disturbed walking out of a theater. The filmmakers draw you into this fictitious town with eccentric characters and then let the story sink into a painful truth.

What I find most shocking is how a film so critical of the government and president and the bicentennial celebrations was funded almost entirely by the government. (President Felipe Calderon actually watched the movie.) It's also doing well at the box office.

El Infierno certainly taps a nerve in Mexico. Let us know if it makes it to the USA.


Friday, September 24, 2010

tostadas de pollo

Our friend Alejandra came over one day to teach us her mother's recipe of the Mexican classic: tinga de pollo. Essentially, you poach chicken breast on the bone, shred the meat by hand, and mix it into a hot pan of sauteed onions with a sauce of pureed tomato, garlic, and chipotle. Mmmm.

The rest is easy. Take a tostada, plop on the beans, chicken, lettuce, guac, a drizzle of crema, and enjoy!


Art Spaces

When people ask me about the "art scene" in Mexico City, the first thing that comes to mind is the variety of unusual exhibition spaces. The city has such a diverse architectural history, from Baroque to Beaux-Arts to Art Deco, that a gallery's unique character often competes with the artwork on display. Here are three examples of art institutions in the DF:

El Eco

Architect Mathias Goeritz built El Eco in 1953 as a center for experimental and performance art. It was abandoned for some time but re-instituted as a top notch contemporary art center in 2005. Goeritz coined the term "emotional architecture", and it's said that he designed the building as it was being constructed, like a giant sculpture. If he thought a wall was too high, he'd tell the construction crew to cut it down a bit. Needless to say, there isn't a right angle in the whole building.

Laboratorio Arte Alameda

Arte Alameda shows mostly video and interactive installation in this dramatic setting. The church compound was built in 1590 and has been beautifully preserved/reformatted as a contemporary art museum. The soaring spaces and cool, meditative atmosphere offer a much needed escape from the insanity downtown.

The Jumex Collection

The Jumex Collection is the most influential private art collection in Latin America (Jumex is a fruit juice company). They collect/promote Mexican art-stars like Francis Alys and Gabriel Orozco. The exhibition space itself is rather generic, but it's located in the middle of a factory in a remote industrial park. We took the metro to the end of the line and then a small green van out to the site. We had to bring photo-ID to get through the various security checkpoints before finally seeing the show. The whole process was just ridiculous.

BTW, did you know that conceptual artist On Kawara (featured in The Jumex Collection) lived and worked in Mexico City for a few years before moving to New York? I had no idea.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pato pt. 2

While I was rendering the duck fat for the confit, I made a stock from the bones which would eventually be used in a sauce for the duck breast. The bones were roasted in an oven, along with a mirepoix of celery, onion and carrot, before simmering in water for three hours.

The stock was extremely deep and earthy. I almost wanted to eat it alone as a soup rather than make a sauce from it, but the sauce was worth it. After straining, the next day I reduced the stock to just a 1/2 cup of liquid. In another pot, I reduced some red wine (Tempranillo-Malbec) with onion, thyme, and allspice. I strained and combined them, also adding a bit of the reduced beet liquid from previously roasted beets, and finished it off by whisking in butter.

The duck breast was pan seared, mostly skin side down until crispy with a medium rare center. The sliced breast is sitting on chard sauteed in duck fat. A scattering of roasted beets ring the plate. This meal was good practice with a protein I don't usually work with. The duck offered so many useful and delicious opportunities with every part of its body. I realized that I have more enjoyment working with meat, and more appreciation for its flavors when I've gone through the process of breaking the animal down and using most of it with care (I didn't use the organs... that's for another time).


200 years

Last night we celebrated Mexico's much anticipated Bicentennial of Independence. The entire downtown area was shut off to traffic to make way for parades, concert stages, and various Cirque Du Soleil-inspired performances. It was quite the extravaganza, culminating in an insane fireworks blow-out in the Zocalo with satellite displays erupting all over the city. I didn't bring my camera out because of the crowds, but now I'm wishing I had... It was definitely the party of the century. Here are some images I grabbed off the web from last night's hoo-hah. ¡VIVA MEXICO!

I'm surprised and disappointed, frankly, that none of the major news outlets in the US covered the event. The "story" is that drug violence and a slumping economy have put a damper on the national mood blah, blah, blah... It's a legitimate angle but not complete. I think that Mexico deserves the world's attention right now for the positive as well. The culture and history are so rich and complex. I mean, what other country would include sexy, exotic dancers in over-sized cages in a bicentennial parade?


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pato pt. 1

This week I bought a duck to prepare at home for the first time. My plan was to saute the breasts, make a sauce from the reduced stock, and make a rillete with the legs. A rillete is a slightly courser version of a pate, made from the confit of meat and its fat.

After removing the breasts and legs, I skinned the bird, being sure to remove all the fat. The fat and skin went into a pot with a cup of water. As the water boiled off and evaporated, I was left with cracklins (no thank you) and clarified golden duck fat, which is liquid at room temperature.

I sprinkled the duck legs with a salt mixture of allspice, peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme, and cumin seed and placed them in a colander for an hour to drain some of their liquid. They were then rinsed, patted dry, and put in a pot with the fat.

For the confit-ing process, the meat should be fully submerged but I didn't have quite enough duck fat. At least the top of the leg had its own fat to bathe in. They were slowly poached in the oven at a low temperature for three hours. When they were done, I pulled them from the liquid and let them cool. If I wasn't using them immediately, they could be stored in the fat for several months in the refrigerator.

For the rillete, I shredded the meat by hand, adjusted the seasoning, added fresh thyme, and mashed it with more duck fat to make a smooth, spreadable consistency. It's shown above in a cup with pink peppercorns and a parsley leaf.

Note: the chemical composition of duck fat is said to be closer to olive oil than to butter or lard.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The sky is blue.

Mexico City is known for air pollution. It makes sense given the geography and, I'll assume, lack of regulation for emissions. Here's a view of the Torre LatinoAmerica from our bedroom window on a bad day. We measure the smog -or contaminación- by assessing how much crap is in the air between us and the building. The strange thing is that the sky will clear up completely a few hours later. Where does it all go?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Acelga y papas

Braised chard stems and onions with anis seed, steamed chard and carrots, avocado.

Pressure-cooker potatoes with red and poblano peppers, onion, garlic, olive oil, pimenton, and cumin seed.

Friday, September 3, 2010


(spanish/italian for flag)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Doggy Day-Care

Obedience lessons in the park.