Mother and her Magic

My mother’s cooking can cure pretty much anything. From my brother being a brat to my dad being a grumpy old man. Once six o clock hit, we all parked ourselves at the dinner table and did not stand up unless it was to get seconds. The strange thing is that I have never asked my mother where she learned to master the art nor her memories of it. She had always just cooked the food we ate it and that was it.

I was a very picky eater when I was very young. My mother always tells me that I was never too big on vegetables or anything else that wasn’t junk food. I decided to ask her how she got me to eat certain foods that I didn’t like as my first question. She responded, “I would bargain with you. I would give you something you would like and then in return you had to eat what I gave you. I had to bargain a lot with you. Then at one point, you wouldn’t budge; you would say no and that was the end “. She kept a grin on her face the entire time she told me this. I decided to make this interview more about her than me; I was a product of her cooking and my taste buds developed through her art.

I asked her what she enjoyed eating while she was growing up. “I loveeed breaded stake. Guacamole and hot sauce with chips. I loved junk food”, she responded and as she finished answering I transitioned into the next question where I asked her what her favorite food to cook was and why.

“Rice, beans, poultry or stake and tortillas. Super mexican food haha. Guacamole, hot sauce, these are the kind of things I found in my table when I was growing up. I want to conserve my roots, the place where I came. I want to pass that on to you guys (my kids) and bring something different to the table. I want my history and traditions to live through my children and to make sure that when you show up somewhere, you bring something different to the table”.

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To me, this was the most powerful thing she said during the entire interview. I knew that she looks at food more than just food. She sees her history being served in a plate and she wants to share the foods she grew eating with anyone. I continued on asking where she learned to cook and how did she learn. She said simply from watching my grandmother. “She would force me to watch and would teach me the steps to make all sorts of meals. I put error and trial at use I never looked at recipes; all from memory. I would practice and practice until I got it”.

It was funny since I was asking her these questions and some others while she was cooking dinner for us. If its one thing that will always convince me to go back home it is a home cooked meal. I think we can all agree that nothing will ever be more appetizing and satisfying than a dish from the person who our stomach got accustomed to.

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Little Japan

 My mom used to say I was a bird when it came to eating; picking at the rice on my plate like a lost and uninterested pigeon. I have to say that my days as a bird are over. Fully matured into curious George devouring any food that comes my way. I will try any food as long as it doesn’t have grasshoppers or some insect ingredient in it.

I knew that the trip to Japan town in San Francisco would be an interesting one. The Japanese culture is extremely rich in culture and history and I knew their food must be just as complex and interesting as everything else about them. We went around a lot of places; almost everything had fish. I was extremely full before we went to Mifune Don where we were served okonomiyaki. A Japanese pizza with tentacles moving on its surface. A lot of people found this weird and odd but I didn’t let my old ways of being picky get to me. I took a couple of bites despite that my stomach was punching me in the face telling me to stop eating. It was a mixture of alive and delicious flavors.

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My other favorite stop was Yakini; a restaurant that serves hot drinks from tea to coffee. But it wasn’t tea or coffee that we were trying out. The owner served us sweet potato lattes. It was crazy how a restaurant in Japan town could bring back memories of my childhood when I never grew up in that culture. My mother would always make us sweet potato covered in creamy marsh mellows. The taste immediately brought me back to the winter season before I was 7: when I was an only child and my mother had extra time on her hands to make unforgettable meals. The taste of the potato was there but it was very smooth. The warmth of it made it taste that much smoother. I’d have to say it was like drinking hot chocolate next to the fire place after walking outside for an hour under 30 degree weather. Image

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Before this trip, I had put on my bucket list that I needed to travel to Japan. Getting a sample of the secrets Japan has to hide made me that much more curious. The foods had flavors that were very distinct from what I am used to eating every day. It was a pleasant surprise and very unexpected tastes every time I tried a new dish. Nothing tasted similar and I realized that I need to go on more food adventures at Japanese restaurants and I need to stop ordering Sushi and be a daredevil and try new dishes. Understanding, exploring and finding new foods has just multiplied my interest to make a trip out there!

Committed For Life

Oakland. Home of the black panther party, crack, cocaine and crime. But like any other dark place, there are always corners of hope that shed light on the city. I have been in areas of Oakland that are just as beautiful as its San Francisco neighbor. Telegraph avenue has a lot of restaurant gems hiding in the dark mist Oakland has had over the decades.

 

I’m going to cut the bullshit and tell you that on January 24, 2014 my taste buds laid their eyes on the cheesiest and tastiest macaroni and cheese. I had finally reached my cheese enlightening at The Sacred Wheel restaurant. We were asked if we wanted a tomato soup that had more than 12 cases of Pabst beer in it. That’s all she really needed to say. I was looking forward to the soup. I have had beer with everything except soup. The small tomato and beer cup kept its vibrant tomato color. The taste was a tang of sourness with a splash of beer aftertaste; perfect tag team.

 

I decided I had one too many spoons of the Pabst beer soup so I decided to switch up the game on my tongue with some macaroni. It resembled a small cornbread brick of cheese. Pasty yellow in the middle with a hash brown tint at the top. I took a spoon and the cheese melted in my mouth like it was supposed to. The middle kept its soft texture while the top gave it a crunchiness that was untouchable. I scraped every bit of cheese that oozed out; no evidence of the crime left. My taste buds had a roller coaster ride in the cheese empire of The Sacred Wheel. I will update everyone on the day of the wedding. For now, I will be making another trip down to the cheese palace to enjoy me a bigger block of heaven.

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Sweet Mother of God

“That’s way too much sugar!” she said. I thought the same thing but I learned my lesson of not following the recipe. The experts said I needed 1 ½ cups of sugar, so if it said that’s how much it needed, that’s how much I was going to put. I had honestly never baked in my life so I wasn’t sure how this was going to work out. I gave my friend Vanessa a call asking her to give me some company because I didn’t want to burn alive alone when the stove exploded.

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I guess after a week of class our professor felt we were professional cooks and food experts because she gave us a homework assignment where we had to come up with a meal according to 3 random ingredients we had to pick out of a bag. Luckily I got sugar, cinnamon and eggs for my 3 ingredients. That was still a challenge for me. I’m an expert at picking out cookies and eating them but baking? No. I followed the recipe EXACTLY like it said. I got one or two tips from my friend like spreading the butter and flour on the pan so it wouldn’t stick on. Besides that, I tortured myself making what I called diabetes turds. I think after realizing how much sugar and butter goes on these things, I’ll be staying away from the bakery section in saga (not like I actually try and go to Saga in the first place).

The hardest part was mixing the flour, sugar, egg and cinnamon since I didn’t have a mixing bowl or a wisk so I had to mix it with my hands. It was like trying to wash filthy clothes at a river; messy and dirty. I have to admit it though; after working on what turned out to look like smooth and silky beige clay and sticking it into the box of hell, the hard work paid off. The cinnamon cookies turned out to be probably the best thing I have ever made and for a second I thought someone had replaced. I had a couple of friends try them and got nothing below an 8/10. I wish I could have brought these to my professor but I kind of ate most of them. Only thing left for proof are pictures now!

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Black Chicken

The kitchen is the most dangerous place in the world. Well at least for me it is since I’m horrible at cooking. I was a spoiled child; being fed from the day I was born until I decided to abandon my mother’s beautiful kitchen. We had to detach ourselves; I had become too dependent on the endless amount of food that was in the fridge. Junior year of college was when I really felt the brake up. That’s when things got nasty.

I made the biggest mistake of cooking for myself. My first victim was a chicken. Not chicken breast, or a thigh not even a wing; a whole chicken! I felt as helpless and lost as I was when I was learning chemistry in first period. I had no idea what to do with the chicken. I picked it up, put it back down, poked it and hoped that if I stared long enough, it would cook itself.

The chicken was naked so I decided to dress it up with some seasoning and garlic. I googled “how to fry a chicken” and an endless list of websites popped up. I instantly felt relieved. Not following the recipe sounded like a great idea, so I freestyled it and hoped for the best. I grabbed a dark pot, put about 2 inches of oil and stuck the chicken inside then went on to do everything except pay attention to the food. I kept it prisoner for about 15 minutes and decided to check how it was doing. The skin was brown so I kept it in for another 20 minutes. Left it to cook in its misery and finally came back to it. The skin looked like it had been replaced by charcoal. I released it from its fiery and greasy jail cell and placed the blob of charcoal unto a plate.

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I grabbed what seemed like a machete and stabbed the chicken’s chest. A small pool of blood was waiting for me in the middle of it. My freestyle chicken recipe didn’t really work out as well as I thought it would. Charcoal on the outside and blood on the inside; what a great combination. If anyone would like to make this Fried Freestyle Chicken please take a look below I have included the recipe.

Ingredients:

  • The biggest whole chicken you can find
  • Oil (olive or coconut oil if you want to be healthier when you fry it)
  • Any kind of seasoning you find at Safeway that says “chicken seasoning”
  • Onions
  • Garlic

Directions:

  1. Have no experience or know anything about cooking

  2. Start by taking out the chicken from fridge

  3. Stare at it for about 5 minutes

  4. After staring at it and finding no hope that this might actually turn out good, get a pot

  5. Fill the pot with the oil (2 inches so that it only covers the bottom part of the chicken and not the entire thing like its actually supposed to be)

  6. Rub the chicken with the chicken seasoning you randomly chose

  7. Throw garlic and onions inside the chicken

  8. Toss the chicken in the pot

  9. Leave the chicken in its misery for about 40 minutes

10. Make sure the chicken matches the color of the black pot

11. Cut the chicken

12. Throw it away

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Painting Murals with Food

The mission. The place I had called home has changed a lot the last couple of years. Going away to college has limited my visits to this beautiful, illustrious and alive neighborhood. The times I did visit, I zoomed past it; I was in a hurry or I had become accustomed of what had been in front of me for so many years.

 

Part of the changes that have taken place have been all the new small restaurants that have popped up replacing old Mexican ones. Mission Minis was the first stop. It didn’t take too long before we all had stuff our mouths with mini cupcakes that melted in your mouth like dipping dots on a scorching day.

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We worked our way down passing graffiti and artwork that was as old as me; flashbacks flickered of all the times when my mother would force me to go grocery shopping with her. Local Eatery Shop was our second stop. The smell was as irresistible and dangerous as the Sirens from Odysseus. The Winter Vegetable sandwich; who knew what was in it but whatever it was it looked mushed up. To my surprise, the taste was incredible; a perfect combination of flavors that complimented each other: sliced green apple, ricotta cheese, pumpkin butter, and radish. The sesame bread gave it a finishing touch as well.

 

Getting a tour of the murals tied the entire trip together; not just for that day but because I lived around that environment for so many years. The stories told by the murals were ones recited to me by parents and friends that had survived or lived that struggle.

 

I realized one thing that day. We all become children in a candy store when it comes to food; food is something that intrigues any individual whether it is because of interest, passion or hunger. It is this passion or hunger that allows us to come together and set our differences apart. Although it is upsetting to see my neighborhood change, it’s interesting to see the blending of two cultures. That day it did not matter whether you were high or low class, brown or white or yellow or even blue; it only mattered that you could have the last slice of that pastrami sandwich or another get seconds on the al pastor tacos.

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The Ancient Cauldron

My mom’s food will turn a dictator into a fat kid that has a whole chocolate cake to himself. She has mastered the art of Mexican cuisine. Both of my parents are from a state(Veracruz) that sits next to the coast  of Mexico. They brought their culture and food knowledge with them when they moved into the States. Mexicans see food as sacred; whenever there is a visitor it is disrespectful not to offer anything to the guest. With that being said, my family sees food as something they need to put their heart into. The holidays are especially important.

My last memorable meal was during Christmas. My mother made my favorite and probably her most delicious dish: posole. Posole is a pinata: filled with all sorts of surprises. It is a soup made with  maize, meat, guacamole and onions. The maize floats around at the top of the vivid red soup. The soup expels its steam like a soul leaving its body. The soup bubbles like a cauldron where magic is being made. You can hear the light hissing of the soup slightly boiling; as if the chicken is trying to escape. The bowl it’s served in gives you a sample of what you’re in for when you touch it.

The smell is viral and it cannot be contained. You could have 5 windows open and the smell will still find its way up your nostrils. The smell is mesmerizing and it finally feels like Christmas. Beef leaves its fragrance lingering in the living room with a tingle of hot sauce that can you tasted through your nostrils. The Christmas atmosphere is almost complete. The only thing left is to get a taste of the red sea. This is the moment that I had been waiting for; its what motivated me to finish finals and get home! I pick up the spoon and dig into whatever is hiding under the bowl. The bowl is a Christmas present itself because when I pull the spoon out I won’t know if I’ll get maize, meat avocado or whatever other ingredients were added.  The first spoon is full of maize and slices of chicken. The little bit of spiciness completes the entire recipe. Every ingredient compliments each other. It’s no surprise that the cauldron recipe has survived since the time of the Toltecs and has been passed on to the Mayans, Aztecs and modern Mexico.

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Picture taken from  Elise Bauer at website Simply Recipes

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/posole_rojo/