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Panaderia Canadiense

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    Ambato, Ecuador

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  1. Winter is in full bite, and that can only mean one thing: Sloppy Joes!
  2. Whenever I hear this, I keep expecting to get a mouthful and then hear the chef yell "surprise! It's raspberry!"
  3. And here's my sendoff - after a quick cheese sandwich with pickles, and inspired by picking molle (which is one of the hidden spices in really good Mole Poblano), I had a tortilla night! But first, a word about Ecuadorian pickles. So, that plate in the background of my sandwich looks like common pickles - some bread n butter, and some gherkins. You would be shocked upon tasting them, if that were your expectation. The sliced ones are closest to hamburger dills, and the gherkins are some of the absolute strongest, sourest pickles I have ever eaten. They go well with other strong flavours, like aged gouda and rye, which was the sandwich. However, I remember that upon having recently moved here I bought a bag of them thinking they were going to be the sweet-ish little cucumbers I was used to from Canada, and getting a really rude shock when I popped the first one in my mouth! Now, tortilla night. I realized at about 4 o'clock last night that I hadn't actually managed to find any tortillas on my week's wanders. But! I'm lucky, in that I live close to the barrio of Los Sauces, which is where most of Ambato's Mexican expat community has settled. As a result, the tienda for that barrio, which is just three blocks away, stocks ingredients for Mexican cooking including handmade soft corn tortillas, and something any of you who has visited Mexico will instantly recognize: Bimbo flour tortillas! I was lucky enough to get there close to the milk truck from Cotopaxi as well - it meant there was Nata (cultured clotted cream) still in the coolers. With a bit of spiced ground chicken, guacamole, diced tomato, lettuce, and cheese (and palm hearts!) it made a filling and delicious soft taco and burrito kind of dinner.
  4. We take a taxi from home to the downtown, and the rest of it is done on foot. It's impractical to have a delivery vehicle in downtown Ambato, where the streets were designed for horse and buggy - there's almost no parking, and traffic can jam up easily. I don't think I touched on it in this blog (although I have talked about it extensively in the past), but the short version is that my parents retired here. I followed for a vacation, and basically never left because there was much more opportunity for me here, and because I'm not a huge fan of northern Alberta winters. They're not only edible, but a very expensive spice when you buy them commercially! Pink peppercorns are perfectly ripe when the berries are bright pink and still firm to the touch. Just a word of caution, though - the Molle tree is in the same family as Cashews, and if you're at all sensitive to tree nuts the pepper can cause an allergic reaction.
  5. And here's the Molle! These trees, Schinus molle, are common in Ambato and other parts of dry highland Ecuador; they're native to the Peruvian Andes and are all along the old Inca trade routes. These ones in particular are in a very steep public greenspace, which means that harvesting them is not for the faint of heart. These are fairly young trees, probably around 50 years; harvesting them helps keep the trees healthy and productive. The older pepper trees in the city are thought to be close to 400 years of age, and they're also productive. However, they're in easy to access parks, so they're already stripped clean. It's been a pleasantly sunny day, which has wreaked havoc on my photos, but the harvest is really good this year. It's always smart to wear gloves to harvest Molle; they're spicy, and the juice will persist on your hands, making it fairly horrible if you scratch your nose by accident. Mom and I picked a 10-gallon pail full of racemes of peppercorns; when we get home, we'll pick them through. It's probably about two pounds of total yield once it's been winnowed; we barely harvested the tips of the two lowest-hanging branches. It will be enough pepper for the kitchen and to share, for the upcoming year. The general philosophy of things growing on public land is that one takes what one needs, and leaves the rest for other people who need it. This particular greenspace has four big Molles on it, two of which bear fruit and two of which are males, which are necessary for fruiting. The amount of pepper produced on just one of them is close to half a tonne if it were all harvested at once. The greenspace also has wild spinach, yacon, berry lantana, and a number of medicinal plants growing on it.
  6. While I wait for my video to upload, I want to talk a bit about a neat phenomenon in Ecuadorian barrios - Hornado Solidario, or solidarity pig roasts. When someone in the community needs that bit of extra help, everybody will pitch in to buy a pig and roast it, then put up some speakers and sell it to whoever passes by. A dish of solidarity roast usually costs about $3 and features a generous portion of wood-oven roasted pig, lettuce, mote (exploded flint corn), and encurtido (fresh-pickled onion and tomato salad). Sometimes there are also llapingachos, the potato tortillas that traditionally accompany pork dishes. This one was in Barrio La Vicentina in favour of Kevan, who is trying to buy a new prosthetic leg. This is an older barrio, and it still has its urban orchards very much intact. This lot has two big guabo (ice-cream bean) trees, a couple of walnuts, an Abyssinian apricot, a pear, and a capulí (Andean weeping cherry) in it, from what I could see - and there are probably also pear, peach, and plum trees in there. Out on the sidewalk in front of the wall is a large pile of oca, a traditional Andean tuber, which have been laid out in a sunbeam to break down their natural oxalates and make them sweeter. I was in the Vicentina to deliver a pie to my chiropractor - and I'm disappointed to report that only my pictures of the raw pie turned out - the others overexposed. So, here's a raw black cherry pie! It smelled amazing coming out of the oven this morning.
  7. Kim, just wait! I'm off to harvest fresh pink peppercorns in a moment - I'll be taking a video of this as well, because it's not an opportunity than many people get in life.
  8. Dinner last night fell into the "I am too tired to be inspired" category - a fresh tomato sauce with ground beef and veggies, over pasta. This is one of my fallback meals when I'm exhausted, because it takes about 10 minutes for prep and 20 for cooking. Oh, and it's delicious, so it's got that going for it.
  9. After a quick lunch of chicken tetrazzini "fridge cleanings" (wherein I look for overlooked leftovers, and nuke anything that doesn't smell iffy - mom had chicken stew) it was time to head out for a delivery to Pelileo, a town about 20 minutes (ha!) from Ambato on a good day. I'm laughing at the idea of a 20-minute trip, because about the highway between Ambato and the 493B turnoff is ripped up right now, so it's one lane and very slow going - it actually took close to an hour to get there. Pelileo was a bit of a bust - everything there seems to be closed in the afternoon! However, I did find a stall preparing the town's signature empanadas - they're cooked on a clay tiesto, and they're amazingly soft and crisp when they're fresh off the pan. I was hoping that the big Mercado República de Argentina would be open for hot chocolate, but no dice - everything inside was wrapped up tight, and the third floor coffeeshops were all closed.
  10. And this morning's breakfast happened on the fly, on my delivery circuit. Friday delivery is four totes of food, packed full (about 120 pounds), strapped to a wheeler, and the basket is stuffed full - it normally weighs around 30 lbs at the beginning of the day. I always run a little bit late getting out of the house on Friday mornings, which means that a typical breakfast will happen based on which other vendors I encounter on the route. And today was no different. First up was a Venezuelan refugee with two-for-a-dollar empanadas. These are always a bit of a tossup, but in this case they're stuffed with ginger pork, and although they're cold they're quite delicious. The second was an Argentine refugee, and a chicken empanada which was liberally stuffed with saffron rice, chicken cooked with ají peppers, and vegetables; this came with a cup of fresh guacamole for dressing. Neither vendor wished to be photographed, unfortunately - but I understand their reluctance. They're ambulatory vendors with large styrofoam coolers that have "Empanadas, $1,00" written on the side in magic marker. One learns by experience which of them have the best snacks.
  11. Holy schnike, I missed all of yesterday's eating? Thursdays usually slam me, since they're the preparatory run-up to Cheesecake Friday on the delivery circuit. So, with apologies, here's Thursday... I was so busy that I skipped breakfast entirely, and went straight to lunch at FoodBalance. This is another version of Ecuadorian fast food, an Almuerzo place. This kind of restaurant typically seats about 20-25, and serves a fixed menu with binary choices for two of the three courses. At FoodBalance, lunch is $3.00 and Thursday's was Locro de Papa con Queso, a potato and cheese soup, followed by seco de pollo (stewed chicken). Dessert was a tiny deep-fried banana morsel, and the drink was colada, in this case naranjilla cooked with oats and then strained. I love this kind of restaurant. From the time you're seated to the time you're served the first course is less than 5 minutes; the second comes out as you're finishing your soup. Total mealtime, when you're hungry, can be less than 30 minutes. This is very much the Ecuadorian concept of fast food - good food, served fast. Almuerzo restaurants typically turn over 200-300 covers a day, and the best ones have lineups to get a seat (and when this happens, tables become communal - if you're only one diner and there's a space, they'll just shoehorn you into someone else's table where there's a seat.). Most of them also offer tiffin service, where you bring in your lunchbox and they fill it for you - often for a discount. Incidentally, that was an enormous chicken leg; Ambato and area are kind of famous for this. The most common breed of chicken in the province is what's commonly called a naked-neck, or churkey. These chickens, when they're mature, can get quite large - which means that pieces served in the restaurants are uniformly large and meaty. Dinner was more chicken, this time as stew with heavy butter biscuits made according to my grandmother's 1933 Purity Cookbook. These biscuits aren't as light and fluffy as the Colorado Institute yoghurt biscuit recipe that I usually use, but they're quite a bit richer and compliment stew better. What was I doing all day Thursday, that I barely ate? Well... Cheesecake Friday is a festival of variety in my delivery basket. I was making Nutella Cheesecake, Mojito Pie (a take on key lime pie with a hint of mint), and Strawberry-Blackberry Cornmeal Shortcakes. This is labour-intensive, but totally worth it.
  12. I'll see what I can do. I generally only eat ceviche when I'm actually on the coast - it's a freshness issue. I've had severe food poisoning from improperly prepared ceviches up here in the Sierra.... BUT! Later today I'll be going to Pelileo, so I might have a cevichocos. We'll have to see what I find!
  13. I'm GenX, and I thought that the very first time that I heard the story. So I think it's made in squarely into the cultural lexicon...
  14. What I use is very close to Hellman's/Best Foods, actually - it's Los Andes brand, which I wouldn't expect anyone to be able to find outside of Ecuador. Ala Cena, from Perú, is also quite nice as a rice dressing - it's less a mayonnaise than an aioli, though.
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