Month of February: "Truly Mexican" Recipe: Salsa De Papaya and Marinated Adobo Steak

“It may be that true happiness lies in the conviction that one has irremediably lost happiness. Then we can begin to move through life without hope or fear, capable of finally enjoying all the small pleasures, which are the most lasting.” Maria Luisa Bombal

Putting these words into a daily practice is exactly where I want to be for the remainder of my life. It’s the little things…always the little things. Abby’s unexpected death has made this crystal clear to me.

Papaya Salsa

Ingredients: 1 pound of firm ripe papaya seeded and finely diced about 2 cups, 1/4 cup each of red onion and red bell pepper (I used yellow), 1 thinly slice scallion, 1 tablespoon each of fresh lime and lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of chile of your choice (our author suggests habanero, I used jalapeno) and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Season to taste with more salt, lime and chile.

Marinated Adobo Steak

Ingredients: Adobo sauce (from previous post), 1 lb skirt or flank steak, 1 tablespoon oil and salt for seasoning.

Marinate the steak for about 1-2 hours with the adobo sauce. I pounded the steak thin to tenderize it prior to marinating. Take out of fridge and season. Pan fry in a hot cast iron skillet about 2-3 minutes on each side on medium to high heat for medium rare depending on the thickness. Serve with the salsa. Happiness!

If Abby was a fruit, I think she might be a papaya.

Month of February: "Truly Mexican" Recipe: Basic Ancho Adobo

“At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” Frida Kahlo

Adobos are intensely flavored chili purees used as marinades for seafood, fish and meats. Mexican cooks have been rubbing chiles on meats for centuries but the Spanish influence added the spices and garlic to the mix. In other words, this stuff has history. I found the whole process not only easy but also satisfying. It was fun to roast the dried fruit and bring them back to life with water. I felt connected to this culinary past in a way I never have before. Even though the ancho is considered one of the mildest peppers reminiscent of raisin and tamarind, it still has a kick. So be careful to wash your hands really good and avoid touching the eyes and nose during preparation.

Ingredients: 2.5 ounces dried ancho chiles, wiped clean, stemmed, slit open, seeded and deveined, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup Seville orange juice or distilled white vinegar (I used 3 equal parts orange, lemon and vinegar) 2 garlic cloves peeled, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, 1/8 teaspoon of ground cumin and Mexican oregano.

Heat a cast iron pan and toast the chiles for about 1-2 minutes until they blister using tongs to turn and press them. Then soak the chiles in enough cold water to cover until they are soft about 30 minutes. Drain and discard the water. Put 1/2 water of fresh water into the blender with the chiles and remain ingredients. Blend until smooth in a blender, not a food processor, until a smooth silky texture is achieved. Brush onto meats and seafood as a marinade and grill or pan fry.

Abby was spicy! Here she is in Villadolid, Mexico, with its 16th century colonial buildings, excited about these statues that were scattered around town. She told her daughter in law this one was her new girlfriend and asked to have a photo taken with “her.”

Month of February: "Truly Mexican" Recipes: Corn Tortillas and Pico De Gallo

“Deserve your dream.” Octavio Paz

All I can say is I feel 100 times lighter today than I have in 57 years. I reached out into a black hole of pain and offered my hard earned clear voice with compassionate understanding. In return, unexpectedly, I received a great offering of reparation, mutual forgiveness and release. I have deserved my dream.

Pico De Gallo

Ingredients: 2 medium seeded and finely diced tomatoes, 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup of finely diced white onion, 1.5 tablespoons serrano or jalapeno chile, 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice, salt to taste.

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Season to taste with additional salt, lime or chile.

Corn Tortillas

Ingredients: 2 cups of masa harina, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1.75 cups of water about 105F-115F.

If you want to make corn tortillas you need three essentials: a tortilla press, a cast iron skillet and the right flour. This author recommends Maseca or Minsa Brands of masa. I found Maseca instant in my grocery store and it was very easy to use.

Mix the above ingredients together with your hand until the dough feels like Play dough. Let it rest for about 5 minutes. Pinch off a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball and press in your tortilla press as directed. Heat up the cast iron skillet until smoking. Cook the dough for 30 seconds, flip and cook for another 45 seconds and flip again for a final 45 seconds. If you do it right it should puff up a little and create some air between the layers. Feel free to watch lots of videos, that’s what I did. It took a little and my first ones came out fine but I have a long way to go to perfect them. Overall, I would say they are way easier than expected….just like a sincere “I’m sorry.”

Month of February: "Truly Mexican" Recipes: Carnitas and Frijoles Simples

“What happens in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it.” Gabriel Garcia Marquez

It’s not by accident that I am working from the Mexican cookbook this month. Abby spent a few Februarys over the years with her family in Isla Mujeres and the Yucatan. One year she invited me to join them and for reasons I cannot remember now, I was unable to pull it off.

Abby and I met while traveling and we had many adventures together within the US but never overseas. As far as I know, Abby traveled to Canada, Ecuador, Columbia, Jamaica, and Mexico on the Gulf and Caribbean side. I went to Mexico on the Pacific side, Canada, England, Bermuda, Scotland, Ireland, India, Belize and Puerto Rico. Looking over this list, I see that North America was our geographical common denominator.

When we first met we fantasized about traveling to Africa. At that time I remember having a crush on a physician I met in Rochester in between my visits to my hometown and back to Wisconsin. He wrote me a letter from Monrovia, Liberia where he had set up a medical clinic in the bush. Abby found that quite amusing and was plotting and planning ways we could get ourselves there. In an email from 2016 she wrote, “When I was young I saw myself as a strong woman living alone, going on grand adventures, exploring, doing research in remote places, flying airplanes, writing about my adventures. I thought you would be there too. We should have gone to Africa. Damn HIV for ruining my life!” Keep in mind this was the early 80’s she is referring to.

Looking back on all those younger years, there are regrets, no doubt, that we did not explore more on our own terms when we had the opportunity. In our last years before Abby’s death, we had tons of ideas for future trips since our children were launched and independent. These plans never came to fruition and we never will make it to Africa. But our friendship, with all its ups and downs is a rich lasting legacy, not loaded with shared passport stamps but chock full of precious meaningful memories. In the end those memories are what I will remember and hold near and dear to my heart until my last day traveling in this body on this earth.

Frijole Simples (basic beans)

Ingredients: 1 pound dried black or pinto beans, 9 cups of water, 1/2 cup chopped white onion, 3 garlic cloves peeled, 1 teaspoon fine salt.

Put all ingredients except salt in a 3-4 quart heavy pot and bring water to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 1.5 hours until beans are tender. Cooking time may take longer if beans have been sitting on grocery shelf for a long time. Add more water as needed. Stir in the salt.

Carnitas (braised and fried pork)

Ingredients: 4 pounds fatty prok shoulder cut up into 2 inch pieces, 3 cups water, 1 medium white onion, thinly sliced, 1/2 orange cut in 2 pieces, 1/4 cup pork lard or vegetable oil, 8 garlic cloves, 3 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk, 2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano, 2 teaspoons fine salt or 4 teaspoons of kosher salt.

Put all ingredients in a wide 6-7 quart heavy pot and bring water to boil. Don’t worry if pork is not completely covered. Bring to a boil and skim as necessary. Lower the heat and simmer vigorously, stirring occasionally until liquid has completely evaporated, about 1.5 to 2 hours. Discard the orange pieces and bay leaves. Preheat oven to 450F. Transfer the pork and fat to an ovenproof dish and brown the pork, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. No need to stir.

Serve with corn tortillas and salsa.

Abby and family at Ek Balam, an archeological site in the Yukatan, Mexico

Month of February: "Truly Mexican" Recipe: Classic Guacamole

“Love is an attempt at penetrating another human being, but it can only succeed if the surrender is mutual.” Octavio Paz

2/2/2020 is a palindrome, which I learned today years old. It means a word, phrase or sequence that reads the same backward as forward. Auspicious! It won’t happen again for like a thousand years. So tickled this phenomenon is occurring during the same year as my blog. It is also the month we will explore one of Abby’s and my favorite ethnic cuisines. Mexican! This cookbook, gifted to me by my son Sean, is written by Roberto Santibanez, a native of Mexico City and graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. He is the chef/owner of Fonda, a contemporary Mexican restaurant in Brooklyn. His book specializes in the sauces: salsas, guacamoles, adobos, moles and pipianes. My goal is to savor each one of these recipes I create and share them with whomever’s love for Mexican food is as mutual as Abby’s was and still is for me.

The secret to a great guacamole is in the chili paste. Most of us just throw in chopped onion and cilantro. However, creating a paste of these ingredients FIRST enables the tasty concoction to cling to the avocado for maximum flavor. I read it’s best to use a porous mortar and pestle (molcajete and tejolote) but Roberto agrees that it’s fine to mince and mash with a large knife and fork. Also, traditional guacamole is meant to be chunky, not smooth.

Abby in Isla Mujeres

Ingredients: 2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion, 1 tablespoon minced fresh serrano or jalapeno chile (more or less depending on your desire for heat), 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt of 1/4 teaspoon ofsea salt, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro divided, 1 large or 2 small Mexican Hass avocados, squeeze of lime.

1.Mash the onion, chile, salt and half of the cilantro into a paste in a molcajete (traditional Mexican mortar and pestle). You can also use a large knife and fork together on a cutting board and then transfer the paste to a bowl.

2. Remove the avocado pit. Score the flesh in the avocado halves in a crosshatch pattern although not through the skin with a knife and scoop into a bowl. Toss well and add the rest of the cilantro and paste and coarsely mash with a fork. Season to taste with salt or lime. Serve with corn tortilla chips. YUM! Never gets old! NEVER!!

Month of January: "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" Recipe: Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup

“I’ve always made a point of not wasting my life, and every time I come back here I know that all I’ve done is to waste my life.” Arthur Miller

Lately, I’ve been obsessing over the idea of wasted/wasting life and what it means to me personally. Abby’s death was the impetus behind this uncontrollable driving force I now find myself in. I wake up each day with a gnawing sense of urgency. Nothing seems more critical to me now than making the remainder of my days meaningful to me. Nothing seems more essential than getting clear as to what I want to be doing. Each day I open my eyes for the first time is an opportunity to get closer to figuring it out.

Waste is unavoidable, I get that. I have to spend time working, pumping gas, paying bills, grocery shopping, washing dishes and all those monotonous activities of daily life. There are chunks of time that are forgettable in my memory because they were nothing more than routine and each one blends into the next. This is the human condition, so what?

What makes this feel different is the new understanding I have of myself. Even though I rebelled, being an individual was not celebrated in my early life. Emotional separation was threatening to my mother and its effect has come bump, bump, bumping along everywhere I traveled. It affected every decision and choice I made along the way. It caused me to be careless with the preciousness of time because I wasn’t only not fully aware of my inner voice, I was also not connected to it. Somehow other people’s energies always threw me off course in a game of swirl and reaction. Now I see things as they truly were and I am ready to break loose and explore this new frontier. Hallelujah!

So in the spirit of being aware of waste, I dug not only deep into my inner world, I also dug deep into my refrigerator, freezer and pantry. I found a green cabbage patiently waiting for me as well as stock and arborio rice. I took those things and instead of letting the cabbage rot and the stock freezer burn and the rice grow stale…I transformed them into a glorious Venetian soup! Hallelujah.

Ingredients: cabbage, meat or beef or vegetable stock, arborio rice, onion, garlic, olive oil, butter, parmigianno-reggiano grated cheese, salt, freshly ground pepper.

  1. Make the smothered (called Venetian style) cabbage. Finely shred the cabbage, do not use the core. Heat on medium heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a saute pan and add 1/2 cup chopped onion and saute until golden. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic and give a quick stir. Add the cabbage and stir to coat, season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add 1 tablespoon of wine vinegar and stir until nicely coated with the oil. Cover with a tight sealing lid and allow to cook on low heat for 1.5 hours. The cabbage will caramelize into sweetness.
  2. Heat 3 cups of meat stock or beef stock or whatever stock you like. Bring to a boil. Add 2/3 cup Arborio rice and cook with lid off for about 20 minutes. When rice is done, add the cabbage and stir well. Before turning off heat, add 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/3 cup of parmigianno-reggiano cheese and stir. Taste and re-season. Ladle into bowls.

Month of January: "Essentials of Italian Cooking" Recipe: Polenta cake with raisins, dried fig and pine nuts

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver

Today is my birthday. January 29th. For some strange reason everything today has gone awry. WordPress is posting that it’s January 30th and I can’t seem to figure out why? It is not January 30th!!! I wanted to make a dessert from this cookbook instead of my never fail favorite coconut layer cake with custard cream and meringue frosting. I drove to 3 stores to get the ingredients for this endeavor. Trader Joe’s always has pine nuts and I mean ALWAYS but not today. The co-op parking lot never is full at 10 am, even on a weekend, but on this particular morn, there was nowhere to park. They always have cornmeal but none when I went looking for it. Can I just say that trying to make this cake for my birthday has been a very weird experience from beginning to end? It’s like this cake just did not want to be made. And now I know why. It just sucked as a birthday cake. Should have made the coconut. Live and learn. Live and learn.