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.

Abby was spicy. Below she is pictured in Villadolid, Mexico with its 16th century colonial buildings excited about some sculptures that were scattered around town. She told her daughter in law Emily that “this one was her new girlfriend” and asked to have a photo taken with her. Just look at that smile!

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.

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 time to get it right.

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 oddly never overseas. As far as I know, Abby traveled to Ecuador, Columbia, Jamaica, Canada and Mexico on the Gulf/Caribbean side. I went to Mexico on the Pacific side, England, Bermuda, Canada, Scotland, Ireland, India, Belize and Puerto Rico. Looking over this list, I see that North America was our surprisingly boring geographical common denominator.

When we first met we fantasized about traveling to Africa. A few years later, I remember having a crush on a physician I met in between my visits to Wisconsin and back to my hometown. 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 dating 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, those damn regrets keep rearing their ugly heads. I wish we had explored much more on our own terms when we had the opportunity. In our last years before Abby’s death, we had tons of ideas for extended future trips since our children were completely launched and independent. The year Abby died we were in process of planning a Caribbean Christmas together. These plans and so many more never came to fruition and together we never will make it to Africa. But our friendship, with all its ups and downs is a rich legacy, not loaded with shared passport stamps but instead chock full of precious meaningful lasting loving 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 and who knows, maybe even beyond.

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

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.

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 another thousand years. So tickled this phenomenon is occurring during the same year as my blog. It is also the month I will explore one of Abby’s (and mine too) favorite ethnic cuisines. Mexican! This cookbook, which I love, was gifted to me by my son for Mother’s Day. The book specializes in the authentic sauces: salsas, guacamoles, adobos, moles and pipianes.

The secret to a great guacamole is in the chili paste. Most of us just throw in the chopped ingredients and mix it up. Not so here. First you must create a paste which enhances not only the flavors but also enables the tasty concoction to blend wonderfully with the avocado. It’s traditional to use a porous mortar and pestle (molcajete and tejolote) but it’s fine to mince and mash with a large knife and fork if you don’t have one. Also, guacamole is meant to be chunky, not smooth (this is very important.) Yum, eating guacamole never gets old! I surrender!

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.

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 as meaningful as possible. 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 from here. Waste is unavoidable, I get that. I have to spend time working, doing laundry, grocery shopping, washing dishes and all those monotonous activities of daily life. There are chunks of my life that are completely forgotten because they were nothing more than routine with each day blending into the next. This is the human condition, so what?

What makes this feel different is the new understanding I have of myself. I rebelled in my early years, trying to make my way as an individual, resisting to be part of the family group only. I had other ideas. Emotional separation was threatening to my mother and its effect has come bump, bump, bumping along everywhere I traveled. It affected many decisions and choices I made along the way. It caused me to be careless with the preciousness of time because I wasn’t fully aware of the importance of listening to my inner voice. Somehow other people’s energies often threw me off course in a game of swirl and reaction. Now in hindsight I see things as they truly were and I am ready to break loose and explore this new frontier of listening.

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 shrivel and rot and the stock freezer burn and the rice grow stale…I transformed them into a glorious Venetian soup! Bellissimo!

Ingredients: green 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 and I can’t seem to change it? It is not January 30th!!! I wanted to make a cake from this cookbook instead of my never fail favorite coconut layer cake with custard cream and meringue frosting. I drove to three 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 had pine nuts but no cornmeal which they usually stock. 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. It was good but wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for. Oh well, sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.

All of my life I never enjoyed the fact that my birthday comes in January. Winter is my least favorite season. Who really likes sub zero temperatures, dangerous ice, chilling winds and long long dark nights? However this year I had an unexpected revelation while lying in the quiet of my bed at dawn. I noticed that by the time my birthday rolls around the solstice is well over a month past and for the first time I felt on a very subtle level the sense of the darkest days behind me. My birth time felt more like the turning of a corner. It felt like the worst was behind me and now there was no where to go but towards more light. Kind of like when you are traveling on a difficult journey and you are now more than half way there, it gives you a peaceful relaxing feeing. It was a wild and precious moment. The kind of moment that brought me not only joy but also a liberating feeling to be consciously aware of the slow and steady cosmic movement of the ebb and flow that is available to me at any time. Anytime, not just on birthday.

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Ingredients: 16 oz. water, 5 oz. cornmeal, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1.5 tablespoon olive oil, 4.5 oz. sugar, 2 oz. pine nuts, 2 oz. raisins, 4 oz. dried figs chopped, 2 tablespoons of butter, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, 4 oz. all purpose flour

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200 C / 400 F
  2. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and pour in the cornmeal in a thin stream, letting it sift through your clenched fist while constantly stirring with your other hand.
  3. When all the cornmeal is in, add salt and olive oil.
  4. Continue to stir for another 15 seconds until the mixture thickens slightly and pulls away from the sides. At this point, remove from the heat.
  5. Add the sugar, pine nuts, raisins, figs, butter, egg, and fennel seeds to the cornmeal. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Add the flour and mix well to form a smooth, uniform batter.
  7. Smear a 9 inch round tin with butter and dust with flour, and pour the batter into it, using a spatula to smooth it off.
  8. Bake on the upper shelf of the oven for 45 – 50 minutes.
  9. When the cake is out and while it’s still warm, loosen the sides of the cake from the tin by using a knife. Turn the cake out onto a plate, and then flip into other-side-up onto another plate.
  10. Serve when cake is completely cool.

Month of January: “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking: Recipe: Risotto with mushroom

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” W.B. Yeats

Patience has never been one of my virtues. I have been told this more than once. Risotto takes patience. Unlike basmati rice or any other grain where water is added to the pot and is left to simmer quietly on its own; risotto requires attention and action. A small amount of hot liquid is stirred into the risotto until the liquid evaporates. Then more is added in stages until it becomes tender and creamy. It’s one of those things, like a pudding where you just have to commit to stirring, stirring and more stirring.

My grief for Abby these days is kind of like cooking grains. Some days it quietly simmers and some days it needs stirring. Regardless, it is still quite present within this vessel and tonight I am impatient with it. I wonder how long this will be? Damn it’s been going on for a long time!! I feel lonely for her voice so many days. Still wanting to pick up the phone and call or shoot an email, anxiously waiting to not only share my inner world but to hear hers. Now all I hear is silence and the most annoying ringing in my ear.

It’s January, it’s dark, it’s cold and the inner landscape is ripe for this kind of stirring, stirring, stirring. Deep breath, deep breath. “Be patient Rebecca, be patient. You are sharpening your senses.”

Ingredients: 5 cups basic homemade meat broth or 1 cup canned beef broth diluted with 4 cups of water, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion, 2 cups Arborio rice, 1 ounce of dried porcini mushrooms or small amount of fresh (I used shitake), black pepper, 1/3 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, salt.

  1. Bring broth to a simmer in a pan.
  2. Put tablespoon of butter and chopped onion into a broad sturdy pot and turn on heat to medium high. Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent, then add the rice. Stir quickly until the grains are coated well.
  3. Add 1/2 cup of simmering broth and cook, stirring constantly until all the liquid evaporates. Keep doing this 1/2 cup at a time for 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms. Stir. Keep adding the liquid 1/2 cup at a time and stirring until all the liquid evaporates. It should take about 20 minutes. Taste the rice. It should be tender but firm. When finished, add few grindings of black pepper, another tablespoon of butter and the cheese. Stir to mix well, taste for salt. Add to a platter and serve with additional cheese on the side and minced parsley.

Month of January: “Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking” Recipe: Potato Gnocchi and Tomato Sauce with Onion

” I consider cooking to be an act of love. I do enjoy the craft of cooking, of course, otherwise I would not have done so much of it, but that is a very small part of the pleasure it brings me. What I love is to cook for someone. To put a freshly made meal on the table, even if it is something very plain and simple as long as it tastes good and is not a ready-to-eat something bought at the store, is a sincere expression of affection, it is an act of binding intimacy directed at whoever has a welcome place in your heart. And while other passions in your life may at some point begin to bank their fires, the shared happiness of good homemade food can last as long as we do.” Marcella Hazan

Well that just about says it all when it comes to my family of origin. Food was/is an expression of love. I am grateful daily for the simple beauty they handed down to me to sit together every day and share a meal made with mindfulness and care. It is a sadly undervalued ritual in the rush a day world we live in now and so many people miss out on this important connection with their families. But in my house the kitchen and the table are always the centerpiece of home.

5 generations (1985)

Potato Gnocchi

Ingredients: 1.5 pounds boiling potatoes, 1.5 cups all purpose flour

Boil potatoes in their skins in a large pot of water until tender. Remove, cool and peel. Puree through a food mill into a pile on your working space. Add flour and work the flour into the potato until soft and smooth but slightly sticky. Flour work space, cut dough in half and form into 1 inch snakes with your hands while rolling the dough back and forth. Cut into 3/4 inch pieces. Here is the trickiest part; shaping the gnocchi. For this I am just going to advise you to watch a video online. It’s just too hard to explain! Boil at least 4-6 quarts of water, add salt and then throw in 2-3 gnocchi to test. Once they float to the top it takes about 10-15 seconds to cook. Drain with slotted spoon to a bowl and continue until completed. (I won’t kid you gnocchis are tricky to get even but I am quite pleased with my first try!!)

Tomato Sauce with Onion

Ingredients: 2 cups Italian plum tomatoes with juices, 1/2 onion, peeled and cut in half, 5 tablespoons of butter.

Put all ingredients in a pan and cook for 45 minutes on a low simmer. Discard onion after cooking and add salt to taste. I used the food mill and my home made canned tomatoes to make a smoother sauce. Easy, delicious. Add parmesan as desired.

Month of January: “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” Recipe: Minestrone alla Romagnola

“Our doubts are traitors.” William Shakespeare & “Doubts can only be removed by action.” Goethe

Last night as the meat broth was chilling and forming a rising layer of fat, I learned something vitally important about my relationship with my mother. I realized that in order for her to keep me perpetually emotionally close (out of her own fear of being alone from her own childhood abandonment), she baked me, her daughter, with self doubt….for as far back as I can remember. How my brain responded was with confusion, anger, anxiety and panic. Empathy for her early injuries kept me always in the ring. Her pain somehow seemed greater and more tragic than mine, her losses unthinkable. However, for whatever reason, Abby’s death prompted me to finally start severing that psychic cord between us. I needed to permanently distance myself from my parents’ stories and look deeply at my own and mine alone. It’s not just feeling the feels but recognizing and labeling the dance between us so that I can unlearn the learned reactions into a response that is true for me. It really is like walking on a razor’s edge. To understand my conditioned inner dialogue has been to learn how to straddle this complexity along with the disconcerting feeling of ambiguity. I can step away, be myself, and yet still love her.

KA-BOOM!!!! This is a big moment.

Ingredients: 1 pound zucchini, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 cup onion thinly sliced, 1 cup diced carrots, 1 cup diced celery, 2 cups peeled and diced potatoes, 1/4 pound diced fresh green beans, 3 cups shredded cabbage, 1.5 cups cannellini beans, 6 cups homemade meat broth, 2/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes with juice, salt, 1/3 cup parmigianno-reggiano cheese

Soak the zucchini in a large bowl of cold water for at least 20 minutes and then rinse clean. Apparently zucchini is thin skinned and soil easily penetrates it. Trim both ends and dice. Put butter and oil in a large stockpot and heat to medium low. Cook onion until pale gold. Add the diced carrots and cook 2 minutes. Then add celery and cook for another 2 minutes. Add potatoes and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the green beans, cook 2 minutes, add the zucchini, cook for a few minutes, add shredded cabbage and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the broth and tomatoes and salt and cook at a slow steady simmer for 2.5 hours. Lastly add cannellini beans and cook for another half hour. The soup should be fairly dense, never thin and watery. When the soup is done, just before you turn off the heat, swirl in grated cheese and taste for salt.

Month of January: “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” Recipe: Basic Homemade Meat Broth”

“The child lay dead between the ripples of the river but the woman rose up from that bed of suffering.” Louisa May Alcott

Well, it’s been a real adventure to get to this new year. Since my last post I have received a new stove in the studio as the old one was leaking a substantial amount of gas. I had been smelling the leak and getting mild headaches since closing all the windows. My landlord didn’t smell anything. My husband didn’t smell anything. Ironically, I learned from the gas company representative that 80% of all calls originate from women who typically tend to smell gas more than men. Another lesson learned: stop doubting myself and I am alone to figure this out. Anyway, now I have a brand spanking new stove and a new attitude to boot.

This month I are going to explore Italian cooking. This book is considered a classic and Marcella Hazan has introduced Italian food to Americans in a similar way that Julia Child brought us French cooking. The first post will be from the fundamental chapter where I have made a real broth. You know, like the kind our mothers and grandmothers used to make. Substantial yet light bodied . It is a base for soups, risotto, as well as braising meats and vegetables.

The word fundamental struck me for some reason. It means to “form a necessary base or core” and is “of central importance.” Putting that in personal terms, I feel a regret (those damn regrets!!) that somehow the message of how to form a grounded core of my own wasn’t transmitted or valued in my early development. To be part of a family or group; yes, that I understood. But to be an individual…not so clear. I have finally arrived to take those steps at the ripe old age of 56. It appears to be my time. If we are to master any craft at all, we must start with the principles. So here I go. I am ready.

Ingredients: salt, 1 carrot peeled, 1 medium onion, 1 or 2 stalks celery, 1/4 to 1/2 red or yellow pepper cored and seeded, 1 small potato peeled, 1 fresh ripe tomato or a canned Italian plum tomato drained, 5 pounds of assorted beef or veal of which no more than 2 pounds may be bone.

Put all the ingredients in a stock pot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and as soon as the liquid starts to boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 3 hours. Skim off the scum that floats to the service, abundantly at first, then gradually tapering off. Strain through a large wire strainer. Cool and refrigerate overnight. In morning, scrape off solidified fat and discard. Use within 3 days or freeze for later use.