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eG Foodbog: Caroline


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Well, who would have thought? I was sure that the teaser photos, especially the scenes outdoors, were a dead giveaway that I was in Mexico. But then I've only been in Arizona a couple of times.

So here I am, Rachel Laudan, starting off on this week's foodblog. I'm delighted to be talking about eating in Mexico. I don't have to tell this group that it's a great place for anyone who loves food.

But don't expect this to be just about Mexican food. I was born and raised in England but have lived elsewhere more or less since my university days: ten years in various places on the US mainland, ten years in Hawaii, now ten years in Mexico. And there've been stints in between in Germany, France, Spain, Nigeria, Argentina, Australia, what am I forgetting?

It's been an extraordinary opportunity for a culinary adventurer. It's also meant dealing with unfamiliar kitchens and cuisines that aren't my own. To keep some common thread in my culinary life, like most others in such situations, I have never plunged headlong into a new cuisine. Instead I have gradually added elements to my core way of eating, most often from the cuisines where I have live, but also of course from cuisines I have encountered in cookbooks, in restaurants, and in my research as a historian. I think what I cook and eat has a kind of coherence. It is though the cuisine of a wanderer.

But to specifics. Right now, I'm sitting in our apartment in Mexico City watching the light gradually filter in through my study window. I'll be here until Sunday. Then we hop in the car and drive the four hours north to our house perched on the hills above the colonial city of Guanajuato where I'll be for the rest of this blog. I love this alternation between the big (very big) city and the provincial countryside.

Right now, though, I'm hungry. So I'll go off and make my breakfast. Give me an hour or so am I'll post some photos,

Rachel

Edited by caroline (log)

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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Very cool. It will be fun to follow the D.F. and elsewhere with someone who lives there. It is an extraordinary culture and cuisine.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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It's been an extraordinary opportunity for a culinary adventurer. It's also meant dealing with unfamiliar kitchens and cuisines that aren't my own. To keep some common thread in my culinary life, like most others in such situations, I have never plunged headlong into a new cuisine. Instead I have gradually added elements to my core way of eating, most often from the cuisines where I have live, but also of course from cuisines I have encountered in cookbooks, in restaurants, and in my research as a historian. I think what I cook and eat has a kind of coherence. It is though the cuisine of a wanderer.

Wow, this echoes my experience exactly. Although I often don't end up cooking food from one country until I've moved to another country, and start missing it. :laugh:

I'm looking forward to seeing daily life in Mexico. I'd love to learn more about the cuisine, and the type of food you eat on a daily basis!

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Thanks all. Yes there will be a good bit of Mexico City and a good bit of the mountains too. For now though it's breakfast. Or rather first breakfast because I have something light when I first get up which is usually quite early, then around ten I am ravenous and have something more. So here's the first breakfast.

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Left to right. Raspberries (Hurst's Berry Farm Oregon, Product of Mexico, I love it) and cream; roll; cheeses; and Earl Grey Tea. Now I look at it, it's beautifully color coordinated, isn't it? Pink raspberries, pink cheese and pink flowers on the mug.

The roll is one of a batch I make every week or so and keep frozen. Roughly a take off of a hot cross bun. The spices and candied fruit mean I don't need butter or jam. And the candied fruit in Mexico is superb, freshly made, soft, and not too sweet. The tang of the orange and limón (in this case) shines through.

The cheeses I bought a couple of days in the tianguis (street market) a couple of blocks away. One is just a simple fresh cheese, the other is "cured" with jalapeño and epazote, the latter giving the pink color. The cheese cuts the sweet taste of the raspberries and the roll.

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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First and second breakfast! An excellent tradition. One of my favourite quotes from a movie is:

"I don't think he knows what second breakfast is!"

-from Lord of the Rings.

That cheese looks lovely. Can I ask what epazote is? A kind of chili or herb?

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Epazote is a kind of herb. It has a rather bitter taste. It's become increasingly fashionable in the last decade or so, or that's my impression.

Rachel

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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Epazote is green. Any idea why it turns the cheese pink? Obviously it must be a chemical reaction, but I don't recall it in The Mozzarella Co.'s cheese with epazote. Interesting.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Well, I have to leave in a few minutes to have coffee with a very interesting person, food anthropologist and mother of a well-known chef. Along the way, I'll visit a market and some up market food stores. But before I go and look for a taxi, a couple of pictures of the kitchen.

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It looks nice and sleek and modern, doesn't it? Actually it has a few glitches because the husband of the previous owner considered himself a handyman, a mistake on his part. But still, it works well enough.

Here's the view from the kitchen to the dining area.

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The little rolling carts hold my canned goods. Above is a very fancy stove. I approach it with great caution. The dial to the thermostat doesn't work even though I've tried marking temperatures with red nail polish. And the ventilator fan roars for hours after you've cooked. Could it be that it's not properly ventilated? Or would the fact that the concrete shelf it is on tilts to the right? I'm not sure. One day I will pluck up the courage to investigate. But I suspect it means money so for now I'm largely a stove top cook,

Rachel

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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Excelente. I'm looking forward to this blog. I miss Mexico very much.

Here's a photo of a volunteer epazote plant on our farm. I'm only posting the link since it's not my foodblog! I like epazote in beans: like fish sauce in Thai cooking a little makes it great but too much doesn't work at all.

cg

epazote photo

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Coincidence, or what?

I spent my lunch hour Monday listening to a professor of Spanish language and literature on our faculty at Widener give a talk about a controversy about five years ago in Cuernavaca, which IIRC is about 50 mi S of México, D.F., wherein the US warehouse-club chain Costco (which apparently has a retail partnership with a Mexican firm) was going to build a store on the site of an abandoned but historic local hotel. He happened to be in town with his Summer in Mexico students when the controversy boiled over into a demonstration, with protesters occupying the site until they were forcibly removed.

The upshot of the whole fracas was that Costco built its store but salvaged the murals that had decorated the hotel's atrium, which was reconstructed inside a $1 million museum devoted to the hotel and its history on the site.

He used this incident to raise all sorts of questions about Mexican society and culture, economic globalization, the urban/rural, rich/poor divides in Mexico (not as simple as they're made out to be on this side of the border, he said), and efforts of Mexican writers to make sense of it all (he gave as a specific example a short story by Xavier Velasco, "El Origen de los Hospices" -- a play on words in two languages, btw). (I will have a report on this talk in tomorrow's edition of What's Up @ Widener and can post a link for anyone interested.)

That may be an awful lot to hang on a foodblog, but paradoxically, your kitchen shots brought some of those issues right up to the surface. It strikes me that Mexico has long had one foot in the First World and one in the Third, and that fact alone makes it a fascinating place to study -- not to mention the source of the people who make Philadelphia's restaurants run these days (most of these coming from the state of Puebla).

I'm looking forward to your takes on Mexican society and culture as reflected in its foodways.

Oh, yes, I must ask: You don't take the Métro?

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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I'm also very excited about this foodblog. I can only imagine the interesting mix of influences on the way you're eating, having lived in so many different places!

I've never been to the US (where most of the egulleteers seem to be based), but I've been to Mexico :rolleyes: . Flew over in September 2005 for a huge fancy wedding in Mexico City. I spent a week in Mexico City, Tepostlan etc, and it was a wonderful trip. Apart from the bit where the bride got cold feet 2 nights before the wedding, and all 650 guests had no wedding to attend!!! :shock:

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Let me reply to these comments and then I'll get busy uploading the photos of the day. John, I have no idea why the epazote turned the cheese pink. It's the first time I have seen that. The vendor in the market looked at me and said of course it did and all his buddies nodded sagely. But when I get to Guanajuato I shall have a go at it with my own epazote.

Chardgirl, thanks for helping me out by posting that nice photo.

Sandy, it's not so much to hang on a food blog. In fact you can hardly eat a bite in Mexico without running up against these issues. Something I find worth remembering is that, even leaving aside the pre-hispanic period, Mexico was first world in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when cities to the north were nothing but wide spots in the road.

And yes I do take the Metro but from where we live not often. The metro does not come this far south. We are way in the south of Mexico, right at the junction of Insurgentes Sur and the Periferico for those of you who know the city. Just ten minutes walk from work in the National University. How many people in Mexico City are that lucky? So I usually drive or take a taxi.

Pille, what an amazing story. 650 abandoned wedding guests in Tepozotlan. Well at least there's a good bit to do around there.

Abra, we decided to leave academia early and wanted to go somewhere interesting where we'd learn a lot of new things. So Mexico.

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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So today's adventures thus far will come in three parts. The first is shopping in the market in San Angel. It's one of the best markets in Mexico City, not as great as San Juan, but more typical. San Angel is a lovely neighborhood in the south of the city, with old cobbled streets and colonial houses. Once a village, it's now well and truly within the city boundaries. Here's one of the main squares. I'll try to post some more pictures of this lovely area but right now uploading is a bit hit and miss, perhaps because I use Firefox.

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I'm in search of cocoa beans for experiments with grinding on a metate. But first a stroll.

A nice selection of tripe in the meat section.

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Now what's this in a stall selling religious items?

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And even better, here are iced jars of peeled fresh walnuts ready for a nogada sauce.

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Why they should be in the stall selling stuff for Day of the Dead I'm not sure. But the llady tells me that they can be frozen and kept for a year. Great. I buy quarter of a kilo for $10. These are not cheap. Sorry about the blurry photo but the people in the more popular markets get a bit fed up of being photographed.

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She kindly takes me off to the stall where they sell semillas, a category that includes nuts, beans, dried chiles, and my cocoa beans.

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Again a few finds to buy, the vendor asks whether I like Mexico, I say I've been here ten years so I must, mustn't I? Yes, he says, Mexico is great but the greatest thing about it is its people.

And off I go to next stop. More on this later.

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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If I have time, I'll post the next stop which I think you'll all enjoy. Right now, I'm throwing a meal together. I returned home between 3 and 4 and my husband told me that one of our oldest friends in Mexico, Godfrey, had called. Result, he's coming for dinner at 7. We haven't seen him in a couple of months so this is lovely. But I had some work I simply had to get done so I couldn't get started immediately.

But we were going to go to the Argentinian restaurant in the shopping center half a mile away (for my husband what he describes as the best hamburger he has ever had, for me grilled sweetbreads which I adore). Tomorrow we are going to dinner with friends, Sunday we leave. The larder is bare.

Since Godfrey was the poor unfortunate who lived with us for three months to guide us through our first steps in Spanish (in return for comments on his Ph.D), he's like family. But he's a guest too. And he's between women so perhaps needs some decent food.

Help. Dessert is easy. I made a trifle yesterday for my husband who loves custard and soggy cake. I don't as you can tell. But I had some wonderful panque (pound cake) in the freezer from a Polish woman in the small shopping center near here who does alta reposteria (high class cake making). Plus those raspberries. OK, cake, sherry, raspberries. All you need is a quick custard and whipped cream and you're on your way.

Then I have some wonderful hearth baked bread from the deli I went to earlier. This can go with everything. And Superama, the upmarket branch of WalMart where I get my basic groceries has a Spanish promotion so I have a couple of bottles of promising wine.

Soup--well the asparagus and a bit of potato from last night will will turn into a nice crema.

Main course. Yikes. A salad. Sliced filete of beef from last night, hard boiled eggs, nice Spanish canned beans, nice Spanish canned red pepper, and a lovely "English" cucumber salad. I'd thought of home made mayonnaise but with the beans a vinagrette will be better.

Finally, a nice bit of Manchego, wonderful Mexican-made Camembert (let's not worry too much about the name), and some of that pink cheese piled into a glass bowl. Plus Punta de Ciel, a lovely Mexican coffee with cream.

A bit pale, a bit creamy as a menu. But Godfrey's family came from France about a hundred years ago to work in the booming economy of the late nineteenth century. He has never acquired a taste for the bold and piquante.

Rachel

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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OK, we've all been fed, I'll post photos tomorrow, and my husband and Godfrey are busy dissecting the criminal justice system worldwide so I can do a flash back.

Next stop. A Sanborns. Sanborns, founded in 1903 by Americans, is a Mexican institution.

You want Elle or the Harvard Business Review. Off to Sanborns. You want an unusual medicine, a good tobacco, a fancy watch, Sanborns. It was the first place in the

last century where nice women could eat away from home. The model was a soda fountain with sandwiches, hamburgers, milk shakes etc.

Today it's where ladies lunch, where businessmen hook up to the internet and have their meetings. Really, the social and business life of Mexico might grind to a halt without the Sanborns scattered across Mexico City and the provinces.

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Anyone want to guess who now owns Sanborns?

But it's here I am to meet Mayán. Often we meet at an academic seminar or at a nice restaurant such as San Angel Inn (sananjeleeen as it's pronounced). This was the place that inspired Tom Gilliland to open Fonda San Miguel in Austin. But we're both busy this week so she suggests Sanborns.

Here she is. If she looks great in this photo, she is even more stunningly beautiful in real life.

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She's not going to eat. She will eat with her husband mid afternoon and her cook is at work preparing the meal. I'm in need of second breakfast so I order molletes, rolls with a smear of beans and a bit of melted cheese and a salsa of chopped tomato, onion and chile serrano on the side. Here it is on the signature willow pattern china.

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Bad molletes, worse coffee. But nobody goes for Sanborns for the food even though the usual roundup of trendy chefs are designing special dishes for Sanborns (think who owns it).

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So Mayán and I settle down for a good chat: the family, the problems with research in Mexico, politics (always at the top of the agenda here), and above all Mexican food.

She thinks I've chosen the wrong mole for my thesis that mole is Islamic. Within seconds we are happily arguing about diffusion or independent invention, the role of ideas in cooking, how you made salsas before the invention of metates, the wonderful talk she arranged that I went to by the head of research at the Nutrition Institute in Mexico , the visit of the food historian Massimo Montanari to Mexico City, the gossip of the culinary world in Mexico City.

It's 2 o'clock and we've hardly begun. She returns a bunch of books I'd lent her and adds some journal articles that she thinks I should read. The usual protestations about who will pay and where we will meet next to resolve our differences about mole, how to think about grinding beans, what is the strategy about obesity in Mexico. Pure delight for me.

And off to the next stop but I don't think I will get to that until tomorrow. Anyone want to guess who her son is?

Rachel

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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Anyone want to guess who now owns Sanborns?

hey Rachel....

i, like Abra, am a Mexican food lover who has ended up somewhere without Mexican food, so i am always excited for any second- or third-hand contact with something actually Mexican. Thus: many thanks for taking the time to blog your week!

Also, let me take this opportunity to thank you for your informative and provocative article about the Islamic roots of mole (linked here for those who haven't read it)...we talked about this article quite a bit last year when i introduced some European suckas to mole poblano and tamales...

blog on!

+++

ETA: actually, removed Sanborn's guess after I did some reading about it.

Edited by markemorse (log)
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I've heard Sanborns described as the Mexican Denny's, but I never would have guessed which megacorporation that actually owns them. I'm really excited about this blog, as Mexican is one of my favorite cuisines.

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Rachel, one of my first cookbooks was Diana Kennedy’s The Art of Mexican Cooking, so I am very excited to follow along with you this week. I understand that Mexican cuisine varies quite a bit regionally. Do you find many of the regional cooking styles represented in Mexico City, or are the cooking styles tied to local ingredients?

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I am glad to hear another perspective on Sanborns. We went to the one near the Zocolo in D.F. our first night there based on a rave review in our guidebook and found it to be horrible to the point it was inedible. Our second try in another restaurant on the way back to the hotel was the same. This, along with the fact that our planned 2 weeks was cut to only 3 days by an untimely bout with appendicitis, left me somewhat biased against the food in D.F. I know that I had a uniquely bad experience, and enough time has elapsed that I am happy to give the food in that city another chance! Besides, I love the Mexican food I find here in my own country (although I now refer to it as "Californian" food). Can't wait to see the city through somebody else's eyes (and stomach).

Erin Andersen

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Thanks for so many interesting comments, many of which are worthy of whole essays. Let me give at least some quick responses and then I'll post the rest of yesterdays photos.

First though the first event for today is one I am excited about. At noon in Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana in th historic center, there will be the presentation of José Luis Curiel's new book La dulcería mexicana: historia, ciencia y tecnología, that is, the history, technology and science of Mexican sweets. The presentation is a nice Mexican custom-a couple of people stand up and explain the contribution of the book, the author responds. You get a chance to buy the book, which you grab because book distribution in Mexico does not exist. You get a chance to catch up with everyone of like interests. And I would be very surprised if there isn't food--so I'm within the constraints of this blog.

José Luis is a great food lover, a very fine historian of the cuisine of the colonial period in Mexico (indeed of Mexican cuisine in general), and an engineer so I can't wait to get my hands on his book. More about him and the event later.

Mark, thanks for the kind comments about the mole article. There will be more coming as this is still a topic I am still thinking about.

Adam, yes, dead right. Turkey. Well, actually guajalote, the mean lean Mexican turkey not the fat American kind. I assume they have the same properties as hen's eggs but then I'd have assume that about duck and geese eggs if I didn't know better. And now I've lost my chance to find out. In ten years in Mexico I've never seen them on sale. I assume most get eaten in the villages where the guajalote is still raised. This vendor, given the tiny pile, must be raising them in her backyard or a relative's and bringing them in for a bit of extra cash.

No sugar. The sugar sculptures (alfenique) for Day of the Dead are not sold in regular markets but in doorways or special markets set up for the occasion. Families who make alfenique prepare it throughout the year. But it doesn't usually go on sale until about a week before.

tm. Well Sanborns is owned by something mega but it's not a corporation, it's Carlos Slim whom I'm sure everyone knows is the world's richest man. Walk through any shopping mall in Mexico and you are in Slim-land: Sears (Say-ars); MixUp/TowerRecords/Sanborns/El Globo, a revered bakery that has been going up and down in quality over the past few years. All Slim. Not to mention the phone company.

And Erin, sorry you had such a lousy experience in Sanborns. If you every venture back (and it's hard to avoid in Mexico for the restrooms if nothing else) try the chicken soup. It's usually reliable. But then I thought that about the molletes. And they did give the world enchiladas suizas.

You'd dead right to call the Mexican cuisine in California, Californian. I think that what really differentiates the American Mexican cuisines is that they never have the kind of salsas that make Mexican cuisine what it is.

Bruce, yes, the cooking in Mexico is regional. And you can get regional foods in Mexico City. I think there have been lists on the Mexico board. I can't say that I have traveled to many parts of Mexico, so I'd never pass myself off as an expert on this. Just the state of Guanajuato and Mexico City have provided a surfeit of culinary experiences. But I'll make comments when I can on this topic.

Edited by caroline (log)

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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Here's a photo just because it amuses me. This is the window of a Chinese restaurant in front of the San Angel market.

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Bisquets para Llevar means biscuits for take out. The story is, and I've never had a chance to check it, that some Chinese moved from American to Mexican railroad construction and with them biscuits. Anyway, traditionally if a family wanted coffee and biscuits, they went to a Chinese restaurant.

Chinese food of a vaguely Cantonese style is very popular in Mexico. To my taste, shaped by time in Hawaii where you could get excellent Chinese food, it is unappealing.

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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OK, one quickie before I go off. Here I'm preparing pre-dinner drinks yesterday.

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Note the bottled water. I use Ciel which is made by Coca Cola on the grounds that Coke would not want the law suits that would result if there turned out to be trouble with this water.

Everyone in Mexico that I know of uses bottled water. A few perhaps still boil but there are lots of disincentives. When we arrived in our apartment this week, there was a sign saying Pemex, the national oil company, had not delivered the required gas and please do not boil your water.

In Guanajuato the water man comes twice a week with big garafons. For some reason, there is not delivery here so I am relieved that Superama delivers groceries as we go through one these smaller garafons every day.

Rachel

Rachel Caroline Laudan

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