Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dia de los Muertos

Watching people mourn their loved ones, whether they are drinking tequila while doing it or not, seems like a bizarre way to spend an evening, but we were in Mexico and it was Dia de los Muertos, so that is what we set out to do.

The large indigenous population of Patzcuaro promised all-night cemetery vigils and ghoulish revelry—eating, drinking and dancing with the dead. Hoards of Mexican and international tourists flock to the colonial lakeside town every year, and we were among them—sitting in traffic, miles from our destination. Anxious to get out from under the shadow of the tour buses, we took a spontaneous turn down a narrow road, following close behind a mud crusted pickup truck over-flowing with bright orange marigolds. A canopy of colorful paper flags hung low over the crumbling residential street which dead ended at an inconspicuous cemetery.

Buzzing with activity, the cemetery had a cheerful mood. Families were scrubbing tombstones and landscaping graves with fresh flowers and candles in preparation for a night of remembrance and rejoice with their deceased loved ones. Adoration and tenderness were channeled through their deeds. A vibrant blanket of marigold petals was laid out to welcome the souls home. Our serendipitous turn had derailed us from the spectacle of Dia de los Muertos and gave us an intimate peek behind-the-scenes. Leaving the iconic glamorous skeletons and sugar skulls far behind, we had the privilege of experiencing the true spirit of the holiday.

This post has been entered into the HomeAway UK Grantourismo travel blogging contest for October. We would love to hear your comments.

Breaking Fast

The Fez medina

We didn’t intend to fast. Trolling Fez’s medina during the holy month of Ramadan, we found sweet shops shuttered and restaurants baron. Shortly before sundown, our rumbling stomachs encouraged us to follow a group of Moroccan women carrying Tupperware containers as they weaved through the narrow alleyways. Their final destination: a soup shack.

We nuzzled in between diners at the countertop and were promptly presently with a steaming bowl of harira. Behind the counter, a man stood over a 40-gallon tub, ladling spoonfuls into containers for the women to take home to their families; for those of us who didn’t have families waiting, the camaraderie at the countertop among fellow fasters emulated a familial bond. We spoke little as we sat elbow to elbow, spoons poised at our lips, eyes fixed on the setting of the sun, which was broadcast on the television screen above. As the last glimpse of the glowing orb disappeared, the cook exclaimed “Aiwa - Bismillah!” In the name of God! And 50 people crammed in a closet-sized restaurant simultaneously slurped.

As everyone handed in empty bowls and zipped up jackets, we smiled at each other. The cook asked if we had fasted all day too and when we said yes, the other diners nodded in approval. For a few minutes, we were part of a collective ritual of breaking fast, and in doing so were adopted into a new family - if only for the three minutes it took to slurp a bowl of soup.

This post has been entered into the HomeAway UK Grantourismo travel blogging contest for October. We would love to hear your comments. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Flying Jacob

Chicken breast + Bacon + Bananas + Whipped Cream + Peanuts +  Chili Sauce = Flygande Jakob, Swedish for Flying Jacob. (Though known in some parts of the country as "Jumping Jacob").

Yes, a Swedish dish. Though the combination of bananas, chili and peanuts made me think, "West African?"

As the story goes, the dish was named for its inventor, Swedish freight pilot Ove Jakobssen and published by his chef friend in the magazine, "Allt om mat" in 1976. It became an overnight sensation and took Swedish households by storm. A family favorite in Sweden to this day, although every family apparently has their own slightly different version of the recipe.

The rather odd sounding combination reminded me of the sandwiches (remember peanut butter and marshmallow fluff?) and casseroles (the excellent macaroni, canned tuna, frozen peas, canned cream of mushroom soup and - the best part - crumbled potato chips - variety) I used to eat as a kid growing up the Midwest.

They may have sounded odd, but they tasted fantastic.

And so did the Flygande Jakob at Café Frau Larsson. The recipe came from Frau Larsson herself, i.e. it is the one Annika's Swedish mother served to enthusiastic eaters at the family dinner table.

If anyone is interested in Frau Larsson's fabulous recipe, perhaps Annika will share it. Otherwise, below is the original recipe, published in 1976 in "Allt om mat" (issue 13).

Original and traditional Swedish Flying Jacob (serves 8)
4 rotisserie chickens
1 tsp Italian salad spice
4-5 bananas
4 dl double cream
2 dl "ketchupish" chili sauce
2 packages bacon
1 dl salted peanuts

1. Set oven to 225 degrees celsius.

2. Strip all the meat of the chickens and put in an oven pan. Taste the chicken and if needed season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the salad spice on top.

3. Peel the bananas. Cut them first once in half and then split them length wise making four pieces of each banana. Put on top of the chicken.

4. Whip the cream lightly and mix with the chili sauce.

5. Distribute cream and chili mix over the chicken and banana. Bake in oven about 20 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, cut bacon to small pieces and fry until crispy.

7. Spread crispy bacon and peanuts over the baked chicken.
Serve with a salad and boiled rice.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday Snapshot(s): The Virgin Is Coming! The Virgin Is Coming!

A grumpy, yet surprisingly festive pilgrim.

Yesterday Carter, Oscar and I joined hundreds of thousands of pilgrims in the Procession of the Virgin of Zapopan. October 12th of every year the Virgin returns to her home, The Basilica of Zapopan, from her grand church tour. Starting in June, she visits every church in Guadalajara for a week, inciting mini-fiestas along the way. Her last stop is the Cathedral of Guadalajara and from there she is escorted through the (roughly) five miles of urban boulevards by revelers hoping for a miracle or just a good time. 

Schools are closed for the day and with so many families milling in one relatively concentrated area, the vendors are out in force. There is no celebration in Mexico without an impressive showing of ice cream carts, taco trucks, fry vats, card tables loaded up with slices of flan, wheel barrows pushing containers of fresh fruit, donuts and sticky sweet coconut macaroons.

Due to the crowds, our late start, and the sinful culinary offerings tempting us at every step, we didn't actually make it to the church. My faith was tested by a street taco, and (surprise!) the street taco won! My opportunity to worship in the local tradition of walking on my knees from the gates outside the church to the front pew was blown by tacos barbacoa. (It is said that some walk on their knees for the whole procession, but apparently the die-hards were way ahead of me, because I didn't see any one with such pure devotion.) What I did witness and could totally get on board with was lots of eating and drinking in the streets!

The paper reported a turn-out of 1.8 million people!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

To You, Frau Larsson

Zimtschnecke at Frau Larsson's

This post goes out to my friend Annika who, last week, opened her own Swedish café in Hamburg, Frau Larsson. In doing so, Annika did something that few of us do: she not only talked the talk, she walked the walk. I've listened to her describe her idea for a Swedish café for the last three years - the concept, what she would bake, the menu, the decor, a location. And I'd  respond with plans for my American style breakfast place - french toast, eggs benedict, etc. And I still talk about it, - that AND my cookbook-slash-test kitchen restaurant AND my import shop with textiles from women's coops in Afghanistan, and and and.... 

But last week, Annika OPENED FRAU LARSSON. She did it. She realized a dream. And I am so very proud of her.

Frau Larsson: Kaffee, Kuchen, Köttbuller - coffee, cake and swedish meatballs. Sounds better in German...

Frau Larsson's sells delicious Swedish specialties like Blabärssylt (that's blueberry jam to you and me)

And Swedish mustards...

And of course, a mean latte macchiato..

Congratulations Frau Larsson! Wishing you many full tables, happy customers and permanent place on the Schinkelplatz scene!