Archives for the month of: March, 2015

Two summers ago while bicycling up Highway 61 I remember trying to engage my daughter in a conversation about last meals in an effort to take my mind off of what was quite possibly one of the most miserable days of my life. The proposed subject was food – specifically your last meal. I got into the spirit of it but Sarah mostly grimaced doing her polite best to avoid telling me to just shut the f**k up.

I can’t say that I blame her as if I remember correctly I broached the subject while it was her turn pulling the overloaded, pogoing bike trailer pedaling again for a 3rd consecutive day into a freezing cold stiff wind coming straight off Lake Superior.

Revisiting that mostly monologue conversation now, I have to say that the subject of last meals is truly a conversation of last resort. Or possibly a drunken conversation taken while still stupefied after consuming some enormous meal. Or perhaps the imaginings of a starving man. Or the droolings of fat people.

That said, last meals on those few absurd occasions are contextually relevant. So it is not unreasonable for me to say that I am in broad disagreement with today’s celebrity chefs who maintain that even if they were to give thought to something as ridiculous as a last meal then it would be something simple like mom’s macaroni and cheese or some of her fresh churned butter on fresh baked bread.

No. If my end was imminent and my sense of humor intact sufficient to savor one last mortal pleasure before I left this earth then I guarantee that my request would be a meal far more interesting. But first I would pour myself a very large Scotch to which I would drop in a single ice cube, then fire up a dark and immensely chewy Cuban cigar (with flavors of charred Chateaubriand) and ponder the following list:

  1. Assorted kimchis followed by a Roman style tripe stew
  2. Oysters Rockefeller followed by roasted chicken w/ new potatoes and rosemary pork fat chunks under the skin
  3. Chicken livers on toast followed by a rare roast duck breast with mashed potatoes
  4. Gravlax, onion and capers on crusty bread followed by roast goose with potatoes roasted in goose fat
  5. Raw fatty toro followed by grilled octopus over charcoal
  6. Big green salad with backstrap of venison w/ shitake mushroom gravy, and roasted vegetables w/ olive oil and sea salt
  7. Foie gras followed by braised rabbit
  8. Arugula salad with pasta and smoked whitefish, capers combined in cream
  9. Peruvian ceviche
  10. Greek Salad w/ sourdough bread
  11. Grilled Alaskan Salmon/Halibut
  12. Pickled pigs feet followed by Cassoulet
  13. Roasted bone marrow on toast followed by duck legs in confit
  14. Pho
  15. Tea boiled eggs and Chinese Noodle Soup
  16. Japanese Udon Miso Noodle Soup
  17. Kimchi stew
  18. Argentine grilled beef w/ eggplant and onions
  19. Beef skirt steak grilled over mesquite with onions and sautéed wild mushrooms
  20. Pate followed by a thick Porterhouse steak w/ morel mushrooms
  21. Steamed asparagus served with a mixed seafood terrine
  22. Red Posole with all the trimmings
  23. Fried perch, sweet corn, mashed potatoes and strawberry shortcake
  24. Sauerkraut and pork Alsatian style
  25. Corned beef sandwich w/ sauerkraut
  26. NYC hotdogs w/ sauerkraut and mustard
  27. Chicken masala
  28. A medley of dove and quail stir-fried w/ mushrooms and mustard greens
  29. A half-pound grilled hamburger w/ French fries, Bermuda onion, cheese, tomatoes, and sliced green olives
  30. Oysters on the half shell followed by a dish of Boeuf Bourguignon
  31. Caviar followed by medallions of Veal in a Sherry Wine Sauce

 

One of the butchers in the Mercado had a fine leg of beef hanging from which he cut off part of the shank and then used his bandsaw to cut me three pieces which weighed out as a kilo.

IMG_2994

I just now took them out of the fridge to let them come to room temperature before I put them into the pot to brown. After about 45 minutes I’ll remove the marrow before I add the vegetables in stages based on their respective cooking times, then add a little white wine, and some bay leaves. I’ll let it all cook together for another hour or hour and a half; adding more wine and turning the meat and vegetables as needed.

PS – Lightly salted bone marrow on toast is a fiendishly tasty appetizer.

I love this country.

And here is another example of culture, kindness, and hospitality in spades.

I had just finished my run out in the valley. I was walking up to the crossroads where I catch the combi for my ride back into town when I see a bunch of men standing under a copse of trees on the other side of the road having a bite to eat.

Two or three of them shouted at me to come over and share their food. I’m pulling on my t-shirt as I shout back a thank you and change my walk to their direction.

They had set a 6 foot long board on 2 concrete blocks and I could see that they had a virtual Mexican smorgasbord thing going on. There was a big stack of tortillas, two kinds of salsas, a plastic jug of cooked pinto beans, a waxed paper bag half filled with mixed cooked pig parts, and a plastic platter of botanas. Botanas are snacks that in their simpliest form consists of sliced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes, and sliced spring onions all lightly salted and drenched in fresh squeezed lime juice.

I built myself a taco using my dirty dog petting hands. Luis’s dogs had been chasing field rats into the canal and were viscously slimy as only a country dog can get. But no matter and for all I knew, even with dog drool and canal slime, I might have had the most hygienic pair of hands there. But as I have come to learn – at some point you have to give up worrying about such niceties like fresh washed hands – yours or anyone else.

I have grown to positively admire how Mexican’s don’t have a wet wipe or alcohol hand sanitizer protocol. And as a general rule there aren’t any serving utensils like spoons; they just grab food using their fingers. There is no germaphobia in Mexico. For example, salt isn’t served tableside in shakers. No. Salt – the coarse kind –  is set out in cups from which everyone pinches from. And people preparing food don’t use plastic gloves either. They put food straight on your plate using their fingers. And I’ve seen Lilia go straight from cutting up raw chicken to slicing up my salad; all on the same cutting board.

Clean hands or not, these men have culture. They aren’t scarfing down their Big Macs while behind the wheel rushing to get back to work. Oh no. They have pulled off the road before setting up for a proper lunch. In the back of my mind I was wondering where those guys worked. They certainly weren’t farm workers.

Anyway, I got home later and as I am unlocking my gate I see a guy just up the street smile and wave at me. He and another man were working on the water main. I recognized him as being one of guys who just an hour or so earlier invited me over for tacos out in the valley. I walked up the hill, shook his hand and we had another quick chat. I positively love these people for all their friendliness.

 

Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of little kids paraded today in honor of spring. And they were dressed in every conceivably possible themed costume.  Pirates, flower pots, fairies, Disney characters, NFL football players, cheerleaders, NASCAR drivers, animals, insects, children’s TV characters (like smurfs), you name it, and it was somehow represented in this 20 city block long extravaganza of tiny children.

Adorable girls

Adorable girls

The parade was arranged by schools

The parade was arranged by schools

Cute kids

Cute kids in colorful costumes

Little monkeys

Little monkeys

Precious

Precious

And most of the city turned out to line the streets and watch their children parade. This cultural event is just another instance of what binds Mexicans to their families and society. And there are literally dozens of these events every year.

It was a great day here in Mexico. It’s Friday and Lent so the usual breakfast choices didn’t present themselves. But it was a run morning which really makes a non-issue of the breakfast thing as I typically fuel up on run mornings with a single tamale. But then again it’s Lent, so spicy tamales verde was out so I had to settle for a meatless sweet tamale. But the good news was there was hot pinole de pina to wash it down with which turned out to have been an extraordinarily tasty beverage.

Pinole is pre-Hispanic, it dates back to the Aztecs. It is a lot like cream of wheat or oatmeal – but thinner – only  made from the indigenous ground corn. It is typically flavored with sugar, cinnamon, and/or vanilla but pinole de pina is different in that it is flavored with fresh pineapple juice. Wow was it good.

After finishing breakfast on the street, I then headed straight up the hill from the Mercado to see one of my bag designers as to kick off another version of the tote that another designer and I had been working on. It was a productive 5 minutes. Lupita is a pro and is one of those rare individuals that gets the job done without having to ask a lot of stupid, redundant or otherwise unproductive questions. (The world would be a far better place if it had more people like her in it).

On the 3 block walk home from her place I stopped to say hello to my favorite tiny parrot, Mateo and then further down the street, stuck my head into a neighbor lady’s open front door – her kitchen – as she had entreated me to stop as to tell me that she was making posole rojo tomorrow. The small kitchen was packed with 3-4 kids, 2 moms, the cook and an old man who invited me to join him for breakfast. I declined but got to tickle a baby girl’s tummy and tease her only slightly older sister who smiled shyly but waved a cute little adios when I left.

When I got home I changed my cargo shorts into running shorts, and my Colombiano sandals into a pair of my handmade leather and airplane tire running sandals. Then grabbed a bottle of water and headed down the street to catch the combi-bus which would take me out into the farming valley east of town.

Hot sun and a cool breeze made for a pleasant shirtless run. I stopped to chat with Octavio, a caballero who was curiously without his horse – the legendary horse with no name – and was piloting an old beat up Nissan truck instead. And then later down the road I stopped and had a nice conversation with Luis, a young vaccaro tending his herd, who was as usual adoringly followed by his 5 cow dogs. For the first time ever a couple of them came over to be petted. This was much in relief to other times where one in particular had made teeth-bared aggressive lunges for my ankles.

On my combi ride back in I tried to explain to my driver that the big-headed bird perched on the power line over the canal was a Kingfisher – Rey de Pescador (I guess that’s how you’d say it in Spanish) – and was not as he was trying to insist a carpenteria (woodpecker). It was a friendly exchange in that we know each other to the extent that he drops me off in front of my house, I know how many kids he has (2 boys), and that he has been helpful over these last couple of years with my Spanish.

Speaking of which. After I sluiced off on the terrace, I re-dressed in reverse swapping running shorts and sandals back into my other shorts and sandals. I took a friendly lunch in the Mercado eating well on Lilia’s fish fillets in a sweet spicy tomato sauce before heading across the plaza to drop in on my friend, Manolo; not so much to see him but to see one his employees, the lovely Gabriela. At Manolo’s insistence I ended up walking to the bank with her – which turned out to be across town – and in the doing had my first real in depth conversation with her.

I understood her and she understood me. The conversation was fluid and effortless. And she positively delighted me when I asked her the name of a large blue flowering tree and she actually knew the name of it. I told her that not a single other person that I had asked knew the name of that tree. She smiled and kind of said you’re joking, right? Then she then preceded to point out 3 other trees and name them as well.

I struggled with the next few words while trying to say we should all know more about our environment and she correctly stepped in and said ‘flora and fauna’ (which turns out to be the same in Spanish and English). I was very pleased. She is disarmingly simple, polite, thoughtful, ungirlish (yet feminine), wears no discernible makeup, has beautiful cafe-au-lait skin, bright shining eyes, dazzling smile, slim and neat and is just all around what appears to be a pretty amazing woman.

As I said, it was a great day here in Mexico…

The South Country – by Hilaire Belloc

When I am living in the Midlands
That are sodden and unkind,
I light my lamp in the evening:
My work is left behind;
And the great hills of the South Country
Come back into my mind.

The great hills of the South Country
They stand along the sea;
And it’s there walking in the high woods
That I could wish to be,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Walking along with me.

The men that live in North England
I saw them for a day:
Their hearts are set upon the waste fells,
Their skies are fast and grey;
From their castle-walls a man may see
The mountains far away.

The men that live in West England
They see the Severn strong,
A-rolling on rough water brown
Light aspen leaves along.
They have the secret of the Rocks,
And the oldest kind of song.

But the men that live in the South Country
Are the kindest and most wise,
They get their laughter from the loud surf,
And the faith in their happy eyes
Comes surely from our Sister the Spring
When over the sea she flies;
The violets suddenly bloom at her feet,
She blesses us with surprise.

I never get between the pines
But I smell the Sussex air;
Nor I never come on a belt of sand
But my home is there.
And along the sky the line of the Downs
So noble and so bare.

A lost thing could I never find,
Nor a broken thing mend:
And I fear I shall be all alone
When I get towards the end.
Who will there be to comfort me
Or who will be my friend?

I will gather and carefully make my friends
Of the men of the Sussex Weald;
They watch the stars from silent folds,
They stiffly plough the field.
By them and the God of the South Country
My poor soul shall be healed.

If I ever become a rich man,
Or if ever I grow to be old,
I will build a house with deep thatch
To shelter me from the cold,
And there shall the Sussex songs be sung
And the story of Sussex told.

I will hold my house in the high wood
Within a walk of the sea,
And the men that were boys when I was a boy
Shall sit and drink with me.

It’s 3 pm. I just finished lunch two hours ago (beef in a spicy green tomatillo chili sauce) and I am already planning dinner. Sick, right?

Last night I did beef ribs that I finished up in a fresh rosemary tomato sauce that I served over black beans.

The night before I think I did my friend, Ramon’s longaniza sausage paired with pasta in a fresh tomato/spinach sauce flavored with chilies, onions, and bay leaves.

Tonight it’s going to be leftover ribs with something. That something is what I am thinking over at the moment.

I am presently flavor obsessed with anchovies, tomatoes, cumin, capers, bay leaf, chicken, beef, and pig parts.

I do carnitas for lunch a couple of times a week at my friend, Beto’s tiny fonda in the Mercado. And while it used to be that I favored the gelatinous snout, I am now trending towards his fried pig ears. Topped with some guacamole and a habanero salad with vinegar, chopped cucumbers, and onion; it’s a crunchy winner that pushes all the flavor buttons.

And all this food is so impossibly fresh. Just 24 hours earlier the beef ribs were still part of an ambulatory animal. Pigs and chickens are the same. Nothing is typically over a day old. Consequently nothing gets refrigerated. I’ll bet this small city supports a hundred butchers minimum. There are no processing plants here my friend.

The vegetables are all fresh and grown within a 60 mile radius of here. Fresh tropical fruits are trucked in daily from the both coasts. And we only serve Mexican coffee in this house. A place in town sells fresh roasted beans from all over Mexico: Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz and Michoacan.

I was talking to my daughter this morning who lives up in Oregon. She’s coming for a visit in June and we got to talking about this Mercado versus some northern cousins like the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle or Washington, DC’s Eastern Market in my old neighborhood on Capitol Hill.

Fresh food in one of those places are expensive luxuries. Here in dusty old Michoacan it’s just another affordable part of daily life.

PS – Reading this post, it sounds like I eat a lot of meat. Not true. The fact is I am a vegetable guy and use meat to add flavor and texture to a dish. I still follow a dietary regime that I learned in Asia (thanks Duriz!) whereby on average I eat only 3-5 ounces of meat per day.

No. I am not saying goodbye to this blog. But maybe I should…what more is there really to say regarding some guy who flees the civilized world for parts more unknown? It’s been done to death, right?

And adios – BTW – does not mean goodbye, it means [can’t talk now] I’ll talk to you later and it is used exclusively in Mexico. But it got me thinking: language – misconceptions, misunderstandings – gender, ethnicity; all those gaps that are in addition to individual differences that compound to obfuscate human communications. So is there really any wonder why we – and probably more often than not do – misinterpret even the smallest conversations?

There is a certain member of my family who obliquely reminds me from time to time just how frail and tenuous a single communique can be. For example, I can say one thing – meaning something very specific (to me) – and then tell from her response that she heard something completely (underline completely) different. This is no fault of hers. In the wise words of Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

PS – I am [maybe] starting a relationship with a Mexican woman. A woman who speaks no English. And that, my friend, – given what I just said – is a potential minefield of misunderstandings.

PPS – This is tangential, but it has been noticed and discussed by me and others, just how the English language is losing its precision. The proliferation of business emails and texting are not necessarily to blame, although they are primary culprits. It has just been my observation over the years that culturally speaking the use of the English language has gotten increasingly more sloppy.

My evening go to meal – at least for the moment – is pasta with fresh tomato, basil (or bay leaf), onion, chilies (serrano) and maybe a little meat in the form of a few grams of carnitas or of the flavorful local sausage, longaniza.

I dice the onion, tomato, and chilies and fry them in a little olive oil, adding a couple of anchovies at the beginning, or add a few capers at the end; whichever is on hand.

When the pasta is finished cooking I add some to the cooking salsa and also add some crumbled cheese. I then turn down the heat and let it all munge together for 5-10 minutes before I dump the contents of the pan onto a plate.

My cooking wine is the same as my drinking wine: the cheapest Mexican red or white available.

It ain’t gourmet my friends, but it is easy and tasty.

I just replied to an EETimes article that presumed to place the blame for poor documentation on the engineering staff. The title of the article was ‘Engineers on creating better technical documentation‘.

I said that poor documentation is not a problem engineers created or perpetuates. Engineers are trained to write good documentation. It was part of all of those lab experiences (aka lab notebooks) that set the precedent for an engineer way back in university for writing proper procedural documentation.

Procedural documentation as was taught at my university (Texas A&M, electrical engineering) was that if you didn’t write it down, you didn’t do it. And if you didn’t adequately explain the procedures: lab set up, test methodology, and results then it was negatively reflected in your grade.

Hence, you either learned how to properly do documentation or you switched to an avocation more suited to your sloppy habits like the business department.

So let’s place the blame for poor documentation where it really belongs:  1) non-engineers working in engineering positions or 2) the managers who didn’t adequately plan or fund for the project’s documentation effort.

Fred Brooks, in quite possibly the best ever written book on the subject of software engineering, ‘The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering’, said that one of the principal reasons for project failure was to underestimate the testing and documentation phases.