Blogging

I just had a revelation: blogging is like photography.
Let me elaborate.
I was a photographer, a long time ago. I grew bitter after a brief stint (2 years) taking photos for a pharmaceutical. They stole my work and I never got paid for it. College (university, in my case) should teach how to deal with douchebaggery in the workplace. It coincided with another revelation at the time: I spent so much time trying to get the perfect shot, (I was a film guy, digital was just taking off) that I forgot to truly enjoy what I was watching. That led me to teaching diverse computer technologies for almost 15 years.
When you take a picture, you are only seeing a brief instant on the whole scene. You might see a man, just standing on the field, smiling, while a beautiful landscape stays frozen behind him. I imagine going into the photo, stepping little by little into it, only to find how the objects on it have nothing behind them. Empty, live a concave husk just showing one side while the other is non-existent. We only see what is there on the film.
A blog post is like that too. You read only a fraction of what that person is. Whatever I write at that time could be the result of my previous mental and physical state. What I write today will be definitively different from what I might write tomorrow.
And like that, the hunger for photography comes back to my bones. Also, the need to write about anything: my favorite shoes, what I cooked today, why I dislike some words. I’ve left these 2 aspects of myself buried for a long time.
Warning: If you’re a serious photographer and find my photos appalling or disgusting that I’m using a low-end camera at the moment, here’s my answer: stop being a serious photographer and be a happy photographer, someone that enjoys the result than rather be bothered by the process.
Be well.
PS. This blog will be redesigned, little by little. Oso conmigo.
PSS. Translate that last phrase from Spanish

Not A Lot In The Oven

Hi there!
The Mexican got approved and has been allowed to work in the US. However, due to the long process, my resume seems a bit toxic, as I was unable to work during the 2 years it took to get a green card. No matter what, I’m trying to keep an optimist point of view. Keep cooking with all my heart and make the most of the situation.
Funny enough, my first actual job (W2 included) was being an extra on a TV show. Not once, but twice. Unfortunately, I think my 15 minutes of fame (as promised by Andy Warhol) have been downsized to 5 seconds where my but appears going into a bus. Gotta love the economy. Being an extra is amusing task, as you need to wait till they need you. You could work for 5 seconds of 3 hours, but they keep you there during a certain amount of time. If you have the time, give it a try. They feed you.
I have a 2nd interview tomorrow. This time for a teller position. I’m good at counting money (Thanks OCD!) and very organized at that. I hope this works out, at least in the short term. I would like to be able to have a decent paying job, as this imbalance has weighted my wife’s internal peace. I love her very much, but when money problems hit, there is sometimes little I can do. I think I’ve applied for different positions all over Austin without luck. If this doesn’t work, then maybe I’ll have to lower my expectations. Lets hope for the best.

Where are you?

So, how are you? Me? Holding on. Just a few updates:

  1. My camera pretty much died on me. It wasn’t anything high tech but as we say in Mexico, “la patria esta pobre,” which roughly translates to “the nation is broke at this time.” Might get a new one sometime soon. And by soon, I mean Holiday soon.
  2. I keep cooking every day, but I haven’t felt the “this-needs-to-be-blogged” drive at all. I just think that somebody else in the Internet is doing what I do 158.61% better than me. That is an accurate number, BTW.
  3. Octopus isn’t my nemesis anymore. Ned at Foreign & Domestic made the most succulent dish with that octopod that this Mexican has tasted. Go there and have one of the best meals of your life.
  4. My immigration paperwork seems to be moving along. This means I’ll be able to work, pay taxes, buy socks and other stuff. I’m looking forward to all that.

So, there it is. I’m alive, still tweeting and pretty much being myself. There are other news, but these will be communicated accordingly at the proper time. Till then, be yourself, be harmonious and thrive. I’ll try to do the same.

The Octopus Project

Although I consider pride a very bad personal trait, I have to admit that there are a few things I am very happy about myself, almost to the level of feeling proud about these. I’m happy about my persistence, as whenever I find something that I want to do or learn, I put myself into it. I’m also very happy about my grandfather Héctor and grandmother Elena, both of them vibrant persons that had their dreams and challenges in life, but didn’t surrender. But one thing that I feel proud is a bit flawed: I’m semi-omnivorous.

Allow me to explain. As a kid, I ate everything that was put on my plate. My mother is an amazing cook and provided us, her children, with a diverse menu that she learnt while growing up in her aunt’s restaurant. I must admit that even as I used to avert Mexican zucchini (know in the country as calabacita) and cheeses dishes, I tried to eat it all. I took spoonfuls of these ingredients in tandem with water or anything else that could help mask the flavor. The way my parents educated us was to appreciate food and not waste it. Squandering is a great pet peeve of mine, as in times I’ve experienced the kind of hunger which made me pick something from a trash can and eat it, disregarding other health concerns. But that is a tale for another occasion.

My parents inculcated in me to eat whatever I was offered when I was a guest at another home. The way we saw it, somebody was kind enough to share their table and victuals with us, as they enjoyed our presence. In more than one time I ate some dishes that paled in comparison with the ones my mother made and gladly accepted dishes with ingredients that were unfamiliar to me. Politeness required me to be thankful and, as a compliment to the chef, ask for seconds, if offered.

As to this date, I eat almost anything accepted as edible. Zucchinis are among my favorite vegetables and cheese is one of those delicacies that can make me swoon over it. But there is one thing that I don’t eat.

I don’t like octopus.

Paul, the octopus

While others say "Yum!" I say "Yuck!"

I can eat squid without any trouble, but octopus just feels wrong. I have to admit that I’ve only had it twice in my life (voluntarily) and both experiences ended up badly. Some relatives are aware of this personal flaw and have tried to sneak the octopod into my plate. Unfortunately, I notice it immediately. I dislike the rubbery consistency and how hard it is to chew. To be frank, I was unable to appreciate its flavor, so I can confess that I don’t have a clear idea of what does natural octopus tastes like. There is however an exception: I’ve had takoyaki some times in my life and enjoyed it, but I was told that the flavor and consistency doesn’t compare at all with the real deal.

Takoyaki, delicious octopus(like) dumplings

The other day I decided that I didn’t want to say that I was able to eat anything but octopus. I felt that it was time to experience this cephalopod and remove that exception from my gastronomic digest.

But I need help. I would like feedback about why octopus is good. If you are reading this, please take a minute or two and tell me why do you like octopus. If you are kind enough, you can also recommend me a place where you have eaten outstanding dishes with octopus in these (I’ll award extra brownie points if the place is in Austin). I don’t ask for recipes, as I’m fully aware I might be unable to do justice to this octopod. So please, help me find good octopus dishes that I might want to try.

The Mexican Gourmand’s Guide to Handling Your Spicy Chiles (no double entendre meant). Includes Macho Salsa Recipe

Mexicans are spicy. Whoever has interacted with one of my paisanos knows that we are piquant, rambunctious and a bit wild. But most importantly (at least for this post’s theme) we like to eat chiles. Our preference for these green, yellow, red and (occasionally) black vegetables has reached other places in our continent, thus sparking an explosion of flavor. However, this barrage of heat isn’t something that everyone can partake into, as the spiciness can be too much. Allow me to help you taming that fire that characterizes el chile, Mexico’s favorite veggie.

To let you feel more acquainted with the topic, allow me to share a Spanish word with you. Enchilado. What does this mean? It means that you are spiced up. Whenever I eat something spicy and it is too much for me to handle, I say “Estoy enchilado.” You pronounce it en – chee – lah – doe or /ɛntʃɨˈlɑːdoə/. In any case, it means that you lost and the chile won. Keep this term in mind, as it may save your life at a taco place, south of the border.

WHY THE HEAT?

Chiles are spicy thanks to Capsaicin, a chemical component highly irritant to mammals but, surprisingly enough, not to birds. Capsaicin resides in the fleshy parts and seeds inside the chile. You can get a slight idea of how spicy a chile can be just by sniffing the seeds.

Beware!

HOW DO I HANDLE THE HEAT?

The spiciness on chiles can be diminished. I’ll provide the method my mother passed to me while I was young. This has helped many friends to enjoy chiles without setting their taste buds on fire. But first, a some guidelines:

  1. My first and best recommendation to anyone handling chiles is this: use gloves. The surgical ones that you can at any pharmacy work.
  2. Don’t touch anything else while cleaning the chiles. The capsaicin is a sneaky chemical which will easily transfer to another victims. Don’t touch any other part of your body or another individuals body. There is a funny story on my wife’s family involving habaneros and a husband’s junk. Invite my wife to a party and she’ll happily share it with you.
  3. Use only one knife while handling chiles. As I mentioned before, capsaicin can be a bit of a villain. Imagine cleaning chiles with a knife and having your kid asking for an apple. Cut it with the same knife and you’ll have an evening of tears and agony. And that is only YOU, the kid will be in LIVING HELL!
  4. I call this Rule Zero: Don’t get cocky. Unfortunately, handling spicy food is revered as a sign of machismo, not only in Mexico, but in several other nations. I recommend the person handling the chiles to treat these with respect and care, as they can take a fiery revenge upon the person who doesn’t take them seriously.

If you can not hold the heat of a chile, it is recommended to devein it. Use your trusty knife to cut the chile’s insides out. I recommend to first take the stem off and cut it in half, lengthwise. Make a semi-circular cut on the top of the chile to loosen up the insides. Slip the knife inside and then pull to the front, pushing the vein and seeds out. Check this gallery for detailed steps.

But still, it is possible that the chile may be spicy. How do you try to control that sneaky capsaicin from making a number in your mouth?

Salt.

Salt is your ally

That is correct, salt will be your new best friend in your fight against picante food. The chile is open, just waiting to be included in your favorite recipe. Just pour a bit of salt into the chile and rub it all around inside it. This will diminish the heat dramatically. Let it rest wit the salt in for a couple of minutes. Wash the salt away and, voilà! You have tamed a chile.

After you use the chile whichever way you want to, you’ll need to de-spice your tools. Rub salt first on your tools and then a bit of vinegar, as this will break down the capsaicin. Then wash it as you regularly wash your utensils.

WORST CASE SCENARIO: I GOT CHILE IN MY [INSERT BODY PART]

No matter how careful we are, we can experience accidents. With chiles, it can be VERY VERY painful. Here are some methods that I have used to contain the heat whenever I get enchilado.

  • Ate too much chile = enchilado. The common remedy in this case is to drink milk, as it will calm the heat. I have something better yet: Eat a whole lime. Everything, including the rind. It doesn’t mater if it is a key lime or a giant one. In more than one occasion, stuffing my mouth with this citrus fruit has tamed the flamed torturing my taste buds.
  • Got chile in my eyes. This is awful, as it can be while cleaning the chiles, a seed jumped out and hit you straight in the eye. If you have glasses, this will be one of those few advantages of need these, but for the rest, the pain can be excruciating. Don’t rub it, as it will be worse. My mother’s solution? Rub hair, human hair, into your eye. The oils in our hair helps contain and soothe the pain. After a minute or two, you will be OK.
  • Got chile in [body part]. Use a mix of lime juice and vinegar to rub the area. This will calm the heat and stop the pain.

RECIPE TIME: MACHO SALSA.

WARNING: This salsa can be very mean. Make it at your own risk.

My first experience with the Macho Salsa (yes, capitalized, as I learnt to respect it) was in high school. I had a friend called Aaron. He was the only Asian kid in school and we both loved comics. We also liked computers and drawing. He was way better than me in that later aspect and was the person who introduced me to anime. If somebody was my geek brother those days, that was him.

His mom was Japanese and an amazing chef. Getting invited to eat with them was something that I enjoyed a lot. My mom could cook too, but Aaron’s mom made succulent Japanese dishes that I’ve never had in my life before.

We were hanging at Aaron’s studio, reading comics, when we were called for dinner. We all took our seats and that day’s dish was hamburgers. I have to admit that, to these day, I haven’t had meat patties like hers. Before we even started, Aaron’s father arrived. Greeted us and then went to the pantry, where he produced a jar, with very vibrant green, yellow and orange things floating in liquid. He took a seat and opened. He must have seen me, watching him with a quizzical expression. “¿Gustas?” He said, inviting me to try the contents. I gave it a quick smell and noticed the spicy aroma emanating from the jar. I have to admit, it was quite inviting. Before even giving the concoction a testing taste, I grabbed a spoonful of the colorful creation and put it on top of the burger patty.

I don’t recall Aaron’s reaction to my act of bravado, but her mom saw me and exclaimed “¡ES MUCHO!” with her slight accent, while opening her eyes wide. I’ve never seen her open her eyes as much as that time. I tried to calm her, informing that I had chile at my household too and that I could handle it. However, the way my words came out makes this anecdote even funnier. I said “No se preocupe señora. Mi segundo nombre es CHILE.” For the Spanish challenged, I said something like “Don’t worry M’am. My middle name is CHILE.” YEAH, I WAS AN IDIOT. Needless to say, I was about to change my last name to “Bigmouth” in a couple of seconds.

I finished preparing my hamburger and prepared to have it, starting with a huge bite. And the chiles kicked in. Very few times I’ve been that enchilado in my life. My mouth, throat, tongue, and everything else inside my mouth was in flames. I swallowed that bite and asked for a whole lime, please. His dad was just laughing at me, as it seemed I was as red as a tomato. Aaron’s mom gave the the lime, which I just put in my mouth and started to chew on it. His dad continued laughing. After I contained the heat in my mouth, Aaron’s mom asked me if I wanted a new burger. I said no, while I took the bun off and started scrapping off the salsa from the patty. Humble pie for one.

What was on that salsa? His dad was from Yucatan, the biggest habanero producing state in Mexico. They eat those things like strawberries over there. What he made was a mix of these chiles, red, orange and green, floating in vinegar and ground black pepper. Lethal. Very Lethal. However, as I don’t want to inflict the same pain I experienced to you all, kind readers, let me share the ready for anyone version.

  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 Hinkelhatz pepper
  • 1 lime
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper

Chop the onions very well and put into a small jar. I’m using a Hinkelhatz pepper, which came into my CSA box from Johnson’s Backyard Garden. It is similar to habaneros in heat. If you want the Salsa spicy, leave the seeds, otherwise, clean it following the previous explained method. If you are feeling daring, rub the chile between your palms, the same way you rub these while cold. This will amplify the heat, as the seeds will rub all over the chile’s insides. Chop the chile and put it inside the jar. Add the juice from the lime and the lemon together with the vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover the jar and shake well. Let it rest for one hour. This salsa is ideal for pork dishes, but is can be great on top of fish too.

¡Sabroso!

I hope this post was helpful and let others experience chiles, no mater how spicy these are. ¡Buen Provecho!

Honey Bread

My wife Nellie (aka La Gringa) was the one who started the bread craze at our home. She found a great recipe for beer bread and started making loaf after loaf, playing with beers, thanks to the fine guys at Sunrise Super Stop, at Duval and 45th St.

One of those days, I felt snacky and craved a Hot Pocket. I have to admit that I used to have a box of those in my fridge in California, as it was a very convenient midnight treat. But as I didn’t feel OK with buying a box of this chemical monstrosities and I’ve been a big proponent of self-sustainability, I decided to make my own.

As I dove into the Internet, trying to find somebody out there who succeeded baking a homemade hot pocket, I found several options. All interesting, but none convinced me. Thankfully, I stumbled onto another site and this lead me to my favorite bread recipe: Frugal Food. Heather’s recipe is simple, easy and very fun to make. I used it for the hot pocket dough, while filling these with Spanish chorizo, pulled pork or cheese and herbs. The results were great, but after trying the bread by itself, we decided to adopt this recipe for regular use. I’ve used this dough for homemade kolaches (put a sausage or frank and wrap it on dough), basil rolls (put fresh basil leaves on the dough) and other amusing ideas. But a couple of days ago, I woke up craving honey bread. Time to play with food.

HONEY BREAD
7 cups of all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of dry active yeast
2 eggs
1/2 cup of oil
2 cups of water (or whey)
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of old fashioned oats (optional)

This recipe follows Frugal Kitchen’s one to a T, but I made a couple of changes:

  1. Instead of sugar, I used honey to activate the yeast. We got this one while at Fredericksburg, while picking peaches. It is sweet and very subtle.
  2. Instead of warm water, I used the leftover whey from yogurt that La Gringa made.
  3. I added a bit of oats, as for some reason I associate honey bread with oats.

Here are a couple of images from the process, together with some annotations regarding my method. You can view the whole album here.

I added the oats after the 5 cups of flour, as I didn't want it too mixed into the dough.

Making it rise: I put the dough into an oiled bowl, oiled the dough on top too and covered with plastic wrap and a kitchen cloth. I heated the oven at 200º, then turned it off and left the dough inside for 1 hour.

I like to flatten the dough and roll it for my loaves, as it lets the bread rise a bit better.

Both loaves are rolled and ready for the second rise. Again, oiled the containers, the dough on top and covered with plastic. Put these back into the oven for 30 minutes.

Loaves, after 30 minutes.

Bread after 30 minutes in the oven at 350º.

Covered in foil, before hitting the oven for another 10-15 minutes.

The final result. I like the swirls inside the bread a lot.

I hope that whoever is reading this, gives this bread a try.

Enter The Taco Nazi (Part 1)

It may seem like a silly stereotype, but I haven’t met a Mexican (yet) that hates tacos. That south of the border treat that can house almost any kind of food, topped with a salsa and decorated with different types of relishes is a favorite of all my paisanos. A taco can morph into a quesadilla, a burrito, a tostada, a flauta and other delicacies that a Mexican food lover needs to experience in her/his life.

However, not all tacos are created equal. Here is a tale of an unfortunate taco encounter.

I was living with my grandmother, Elena (or AbuElena, as I call her) at her house in Santa Ana, CA. It had been only a couple of months since I arrived to America, together with my mother, to take care of her after she hurt her arm. I was getting accustomed to USA, thanks to the kindness of my relatives. But a little bit of homesickness (the food type) was creeping on the edges of my consciousness. My mother and AbuElena are both great cooks, but I was craving something hard to make at home: tacos al pastor.

I tried to find out a place in Santa Ana, but most of the restaurants made their pastor the wrong way. You may ask, which is the proper way to make tacos al pastor, oh Mexican on the Internet? Allow me to illustrate.

The proper way to make tacos al pastor. And yes, the taquero has to smile

We call this in Mexico a “trompo”, which means “spinning top” in English. This method to cook the meat is inherited from the Lebanese immigrants that arrived in Mexico. The vertical burner is similar to the one used for Shawarma or gyros, but tacos al pastor use pork, marinated in a mix of chiles, spices and achiote. The tacos extra ingredient, which makes it peculiar, is pineapple. The taquero (taco maker), in a superb act of showmanship, heats the tortillas (these tend to be smaller than the regular ones), cuts some of the meat when it is ready and finishes the performance shaving a piece of pineapple from the top of the trompo, catching it with the taco. It is gastronomic poetry in motion. This will give you an idea.

Unfortunately, all the taquerias in Santa Ana made the tacos in a grill and their marinade was, to be kind, weak. I was very disappointed.

I abandoned my quest for tacos for some time, but my first Cinco de Mayo in the USA arrived. My relatives told me that for this event, a huge party occurred at Santa Ana’s 4th Street, which seemed to encompass all the things Mexican in one place. They said that a restaurand prepared tacos al pastor the way I told them about, but only on this date. I decided to give this festival the good old college try.

The event delivered in one aspect: Mexicanity thrived everywhere. For a moment, I forgot I was in California and felt I was at one of Mexico City’s busy streets. After walking a little bit, I found the restaurant with tacos al pastor. I started a visual checklist, to know if this looked kosher:

  1. Trompo at the front? √
  2. Taquero flipping tortillas? √
  3. Crunchy marinated meat oozing flavor? √
  4. Smells like tacos al pastor? √
  5. Pineapple on top of the trompo? X

This last aspect should have been warning enough to stop me cold on my tracks. But the idea of having “real” tacos al pastor made me ignore this. I asked “¿Cuánto por los tacos?” (How much per taco?). The mustachioed taquero answered, nonchalantly “Dos dólares”. My mind wanted to scream in his face “WHAAAAAAAAAAAT?!?!?!” but my decency stopped me.

You’ll have to understand that I came from a country where a taco al pastor was 2 pesos each. The exchange rate at the time was around 10.53 pesos per dollar. This meant that this taco was already 10 times more expensive that the ones I had in Mexico. My inner economist was screaming at the top of his lungs “THIS IS AN ULTRAGE!! THESE ARE THIEVES OF THE WORST KIND!!! WHERE ARE THE COPS WHEN YOU NEED THEM?!?!?”, but the hunger beckoned me. I paid for 2 tacos, 4 bucks, which in Mexico could have been a full meal.

I took the tacos to a table and proceeded to enjoy these. I squeezed a bit of lime juice and took a big bite. My taste buds exploded. I chewed again and noticed something was wrong. Chewed again, trying to convince myself. It was hopeless. I swallowed, more as an instinct than willfully. THE DAMN MEAT WAS HORRIBLY SALTY. I took a small piece of meat from the other taco and tasted it. It was unpalatable and  I was devastated. I picked my plate and dropped the tacos into a trash can. Not even a hobo deserved this aberration. Saddened, I left that Cinco de Mayo, thinking that I would never find a good taco in USA.

This experience, together with others, led me to become The Taco Nazi. No taco prepared at a restaurant was good enough for me. I even fantasized about becoming a nomad, traveling all around the country (a la Kwai Chang Caine) finding the perfect taco for me. Yeah, I have an incurable sense of drama.

To Be Continued…