I was one hell of a lucky kid, not in the surviving plane crashes, getting a pony for my birthday, not ever having to share with my sister sort of way; I was spoiled in always being surrounded by beautifully fresh food. No, I didn’t grow up in a farm and I’m not sure I grew anything more than beans for a school project, but I did grow up in a magical in a magical time and place of walkable neighborhoods, corner stores, tomatoes that still had flavor, and the truly magical mobile farmer’s market: a red pickup truck its bed overflowing with crates piled high with corn, lettuce, chiles, cucumbers! I cook for a living, and am fornutate to work in a kitchen frequently visited by the local farmers that supply it. And also fortunate to be in a kitchen that brings back the memories of the taste of my childhood in northern Mexico in the 80’s, of the years in Spain afterwards, of every carefully and thoughtfully prepared and quickly devoured meal since then. Food is no longer just sustenance, calories to be consumed or avoided, it is memory, or better yet, nostalgia. It is the key to a place I ache to go again. With luck, I will get there. And luck, as I was once told, is a beautiful thing.
This blog is Don Draper’s fault. Really. Before finally giving in to the glory of Mad Med, before watching four seasons of petticoats, white gloves, blue more and brown liquor, I was perfectly content keeping my obsessive ramblings on food to myself. Maybe shared with a drinking buddy, but no further. But then nostalgia! A twinge in your heart more powerful than memory alone… The power of the show comes in making the viewer feel nostalgia for a time before the viewer was bonr. Nostalgia for the veneer of elegance created by the beautiful clothes, the clearly defined gender roles, the rebellion against such roles! The endless grilled cheese sandwiches made by my mother for dinner night after night… Wait, no no no. If I had a grilled cheese as a child it was more as a novelty, a testing of the waters after a visit to family north of the Mexico-US border. Did I ocassionally have pizza, McDonald’s, or hot dogs? Yes, of course, but these were not food. They were not meant to be food. They were treats, rewards for good behavior, a family outing to the pizza parlor clear across town that had the plane sticking out of the roof, or the one with the photo of Tom Selleck and his manly moustache on the wall. My mother would somehow always choose a booth near that photo. And now as I finish my meal of pizza and beer I can think back to those treats of pizza, family, and thick mustaches. But otherwise, I blame you Don Draper, I blame you.
There’s two very important things about food that I’ve learned from my Dad.
1. How to make ceviche. Ceviche should be like a delicate and colorful flower. Use fresh, non-oily fish. Buy more key limes than you think you will need. Way more. And get comfortable, you will be juicing them for a while. Cut the fish into small pieces and cover with juice in a glass or ceramic bowl, never metal. Let it sit on the counter for an hour. Yes, the counter, at room temperature. The acid in the juice will kill any bacteria. Chop some red onion finely, add it to the fish for the last 10 minutes. Chop some tomatoes, cucumbers and cilantro. Mince a Serrano or two. Strain the fish and onions. Mix in the veg. Squeeze one or two fresh key lines in there. Sea salt. Good salt. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Put on a tostade, top with Salsa Huichol, enjoy.
2. The only Mexican beer that should be consumed with lime in it is Tecate, and even then only in a can. There were worries about the qualities of the metal from the old original Tecate cannery. Salt and lime juice where sprinkled on the top of the can. Never directly inside the can! They mixed in when you drank. The salt and the lime juice killed any bacteria. You enjoyed your cold beer.
Dads teach us so many great things.
Mexican pastries require lard. And occasionally they require a hammer. How else does one break up those magical brown sugar cones known as piloncillo? Boiled down sugar cane syrup tasting of caramel, and a slight metallic tang, this is about as pure and natural as sugar gets. And lard? Well, I would rather have a pure snow white block of rendered pork fat in front of me than any hydrogenated vegetable oil or even expensive French butter. Combine flour, lard and piloncillo, make a tortilla sammich, bake. Coyotas, the taste of my childhood and not found outside of the state of Sonora. Why did it take me so long to make these?