Home Cooking

20 August 2009

Being Prepared in L's Kitchen in Puebla

Chiles en Nogada: The Project (L's Kitchen in Puebla)

Shmancy cooking classes are all well and good, but on an everyday basis, I’ve been eating lovely home-cooked meals at my homestays, and I’ve learned just as much from Senoras B (in Oaxaca) and L (in Puebla) as I have in formal classes. 

In Oaxaca, I came home after four hours of Spanish class for the mid-day meal, which is traditionally the biggest meal of the day in Mexico.  Senora B always started with a soup.  Now, I’ve always found soup dull as heck, but in Oaxaca I learned that soup can be interesting.  Just use some delicious spicy peppers, and serve it with super-fresh cheese, lime, avocado, cilantro….I’m salivating just contemplating those soups.  My “lunch club” at work can count on me bringing back lots of peppers and serving up lots of soup this fall.  The best part?  Soup is CHEAP!

Invariably I meet at least a couple of amazing people per trip.  On this journey, I was lucky enough to live in the house of L, an inspiring, strong and fun woman in Puebla.  She always had lots of projects going and her home was full of life.  She seemed to cook for everyone in the neighborhood.  I never knew who would be in the kitchen when I arrived–one day it was a taxi driver, another morning I came to breakfast to find two twin sisters enjoying cereal with L.  (I never found out who they were!)  But here is the most intriguing (to me) thing about L: she never had any food in the fridge!  And yet, she could whip up a meal on a moment’s notice.  Contained in this conundrum is the secret to frugal cooking, I’m sure.  If only I could figure it out.

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Fire Fire Fire!

19 August 2009

fireI’ve just taken two classes at Meson Sacristia de la Compania in Puebla.  As far as I could tell, this is the only place in Puebla offering cooking classes in local cuisine, and I was a bit nervous that it would be kind of watered down for English-speaking tourists.  However, the unfortunate fact that tourism is way down in Mexico turned out to be good luck for me; I was the only one in the classes, so they were more than willing to teach in Spanish and modify the menus to what I wanted to learn to cook. 

Day 1:  Horchata (my favorite–a sweet rice beverage served chilled), guacamole (nothing new, but I did use the molcajete to make it), pibil, chicken in the restaurant’s signature mole and natilla de rompope (eggnog flavored custard).

Day 2:  Tamales de dulce (at my special request–I learned that you need arms of steel to make tamales), mole poblano (which includes one totally burned tortilla–yes, I am doing it correctly in the photo), chalupas, salsa verde, salsa roja and agua de jamaica (hibiscus water).

My time in Puebla has really helped me get over my fears of fire and hot oil.  You use direct flames for everything, most frequently to heat up corn tortillas to serve with each meal.  And there’s nothing as cool as watching and smelling a dried poblano pepper puff up and take on a beautiful color after ten seconds in hot oil!

Bimbo vs. Ladrillo

7 August 2009

breadI am now in Puebla, and the Spanish acquisition is fast and furious.  More on my consequent exhaustion later.  For today, I just want to share the contrasts of the past two days. 

Yesterday afternoon I wandered through Barrio Alto with my fabulous local guide, arranged for by my equally fabulous school.  As we sauntered along, a bakery was revealed in three stages.  At the first doorway we passed, there was a bakeshop.  Somehow, I resisted stopping (Puebla is full of panaderias, so I figured I would have another chance).  The next doorway revealed workers organizing trays of baked goods for the bakeshop.  The third doorway opened onto a large room with a huge brick stove fired with wood and two bakers hard at work.  This I couldn´t resist.  The bakers invited us in and proudly showed off their horno (oven).  Very evocative of those described in turn-of-the-century bagel bakeries in NYC in The Bagel: The Surprising History of A Modest Bread.  All brick, wood-fired, with the baker deftly maneuvering his huge wooden pallet to deliver and retrieve loaves from the oven.  And of course, the smell…yeasty, sweet and comforting.

As luck would have it, the next day my school had arranged an excursion to the Bimbo bread factory in Puebla–one of more than seventy Bimbo factories in the world, if I understood their educational film correctly.  Bimbo is HUGE, and owns brands you have probably purchased like Entenman´s and Thomas´.  You may also have seen their name gracing soccer jerseys, since they sponsor lots of sports teams.  (Yes, that´s why that teenage boy is wearing a shirt that says Bimbo!)  At any rate, after watching a movie about the history of the Bimbo bear and having him educate us about the emerging Chinese market for ultra-white bread, we donned hairnets and toured the factory.  I must say, it´s fun to see these ingenious production lines operate.  Everything and everyone has a specific purpose, and no action is wasted.  Very clever!  And yet…I found myself wondering two things.  The first was a question along the lines of “Really?  This is how we humans have used our exceptional ingeniuty?  To slice, toast and package bread quickly?”  Second was the issue of intention.  I feel that it makes a difference to have your food made by a human being, preferably by a human being who cares for you.  In other words, maybe some ingredients can´t be added in a factory.

Check out this factoid found in Karen Hursh Graber’s The Cuisine of Puebla, Cradle of Corn:  the word chalupa is the name of the boats Aztecs used to get around the canals of Tenochtitlan, their capital.  Cortes conquered and then razed the city in the early 1500s, using its site as the center of Ciudad de Mexico.  Ouch.

Hello world!

6 July 2009

20 de noviembre mercado en Oaxaca

20 de noviembre mercado en Oaxaca

Though I have no idea how to blog, I do know how to write, and in my experience these tech-y things are often simplicity wrapped in obscure new language, so I’m just going to dive in and figure it out as I go.  I am preparing for a six week trip to Mexico, where I will (a) continue my plodding journey towards fluency in Spanish, (b) learn more about indigenous and colonial cultures’ interplay in Mexican cuisine and (c) do my best to avoid sunstroke.  Let’s just say my cast-iron stomach is probably better suited to Mexico than is my freckle-mottled skin.  Onward!