My Mom’s Thumb Is So Green It’s Practically Covered in Moss

I don’t know how my mom does it, but year after year, her garden looks amazing. Here’s some photos she took in  her backyard in Corpus Christi, Texas. I just love that rich coral color of the geraniums.

Yes, that planter is a pig potted with pansies. 🙂

The backyard also is full of weird lizards and salamanders. She's named the most friendly one "Twerpy." He has a blue neck and loves the sun.

If the South Texas summer heat isn't too intense, she can usually have flowers almost year-round.

The (Daytime) View from the 42nd Floor

Although East Midtown hasn’t been the greatest neighborhood for walking my dog, I am not minding the panoramic views of Manhattan from corporate housing. I’m also thrilled to be back in New York City, where I am relishing the tasty/clean tap water, the stringent recycling programs, the mass transit, diet root beer and my friends.

Normally, I'd panic from my fear of heights. But being surrounded by other tall buildings reduces that feeling of freaking out.

The Chrysler Building is hands-down my favorite skyscraper in New York City, so I was squee-ing excitedly when we first walked in, at night, and there he was, peeking at us.

It's been raining all day, but I'm assured that later this week the weather will be downright pleasant.

At this height, the only street noise you hear are police sirens and the wind. Not exactly the most comforting combo, but it could be worse.

Brendan works in the skyscraper to the left, which overlooks Central Park and the distant beyond.

You find yourself looking in the windows, wondering who is staring back.

A bee is home in this hive.

Worker bees in the Communist looking building across the way.

Windows, windows, windows...

...and more windows.

Feliz Dia de San Patricio, Or, Lookit! My Double Rainbow in Mexico City

Just yesterday I was getting all verklempt about leaving behind the gorgeous view from my apartment balcony in Mexico City. In two weeks, we’ll be moving to in Nueva York, and who knows what view will greet us there.

But today, on St. Patty’s Day, my view got even more breathtaking. A thunderstorm rolled in, carrying with it one of those wonders of the world, an arcoiris. Damnit! Mexico, you’re not making this easy, are you?

First, I noticed one rainbow, and thought, I should get a photo of that!

Then, I noticed a weird effect in the sky. A second rainbow. Good goddess!

The light coming through the thunderstorm bathed everything in a (more than usual) pleasant light.

Someone Knows Something Is Up

Hates: When his humans move things around, especially the suitcases. So, he’s been getting in his carrier as much as possible, just to make sure we get the point: to not forget him.

The red eye only makes him look more pissed off.

Let’s Stuff a Melon-Sized Ball of Cheese With Awesomeness

Last Thursday, my friend Julie emailed, asking if I wanted to attend a cooking class at Escuela Gastronomico Letty Gordon, a cooking school in Mexico City’s Polanco neighborhood. One of her class members was out, so she needed a sub. I scrolled down, and read the menu for the night. All dishes from Yucatan state — Sopa de lima, queso relleno, cochinita pibil, dulce de frijol. (Which translates into “delicious, delicious, delicious and delicious.”)  I have a love affair with cochinita pibil, or pork slow cooked in a citrus-achiote sauce. And queso relleno — stuffed cheese — sounded like it simply couldn’t go wrong, no matter how terribly I might goof the recipe. So, hellz yeah, I said, I’m there. “Bring wine,” Julie suggested. Claro que si!

I ended up being on the team preparing the most complicated dish of the evening — queso relleno — which had 31 ingredients, including a giant “bowl of cheese” (a melon-sized mound of Edam cheese, dried for 24 hours and then hollowed out…or hollowed out and then dried for 24 hours. The cooking school does a lot of the prep work, and not much English speaking, so some of the finer details have been lost to history). Here’s a partial list of the ingredient list:

  • the giant Dutch cheese
  • 7 or so “guero” chiles (long, mild yellow peppers)
  • 1/2 kilo of pork meat
  • onions
  • garlic
  • raisins
  • capers
  • green olives
  • almonds
  • tomatoes
  • bell peppers
  • acitron
  • capers
  • brandy
  • achiote
  • parsley
  • saffron

After an hour of chopping the many vegetables, and drinking copious amounts of wine to steel ourselves, the real cooking began. The proceedings got a little chaotic, as the dessert team (dulce frijol) already was finished, and started watching us wrestle with an incredibly complicated ingredient list. And a poorly translated recipe.

Julie tries to sort it all out. The recipe included head-scratching instructions like “rectify the seasoning and let in the fire.” Which kinda makes sense now, but at the time, we were lost. What we eventually figured out: Cook all the veggies in the seasonings, and then pour in brandy, and set the pan on fire. Easy enough, right? After sauteing for a long time, Julie grabbed the brandy…

…And promptly had the brandy taken away. Doh!  Lighting alcohol in a pan full of food, on the stove, is WAY more complicated than they make it look on cooking shows. So one of the instructors took over and saved us from ourselves. At this point, we had far surpassed adding the 1/4 cup of brandy that was recommended. Oh wellsies!

This turned out to be an addictive mix of savory and sweet with a spicy little kick. The abundant brandy and the green olives — mmmm! The acitrons and the capers — delightful! Edible completely on its own, but we were just getting started.

My role was mostly to observe and make sure everyone’s wine was refilled promptly. However, I pulled my hair back, just to look official.

I also played a pivotal role in unwrapping the mound of cheese, and placing it in the cazuela (clay cooking pot). Then, I photographed my hard work. After the cheese was fully loaded up with our veggie-pork mix, we poured a saffrony sauce in the dish, and placed the whole thing into the the oven, so it could become even more awesome.

To pass the time as our cheese melted, we had more wine. One of the perks of this cooking school is that helper staffers come along and sweep away all the dirty dishes, lest you have to put down your wine and do any real work.

Queso relleno once it’s done. Those are two guero chiles tucked into the sauce.( Guero means “white person.”)

With one slice of the knife, out came oozing the veggies/pork/brandy/ mixture, all so obviously desperate to be wrapped in a corn tortilla and consumed.

Yes, I took a photo of my left hand holding a taco de queso relleno estilo Yucateca. Then I put the camera down and got down to business, making airplane sounds as I aimed the taco for my mouth.

Here’s Hoping New York Becomes a Tacotopia Like Texas

Behold the Whataburger taquito selection. In Texas, even burger fast food joints like Whataburger know they better serve breakfast tacos or no one will ever eat there. Because burgers are boring and bland, while breakfast tacos are god's best friend.

In yesterday’s Dining & Wine section of The New York Times, there was a peculiar food article, especially for Texans:

Tacos in the Morning? That’s the Routine in Austin

As my friend Crayton said, “There are places where you don’t eat tacos in the morning? In America?” For anyone who has ever lived in Texas (or other Mexican-friendly states), it’s hard to fathom the need to do an article on this topic. Of course tacos are routine in Austin! And San Antonio. And Houston. And especially in my hometown of Corpus Christi. God, duh, right?

Many mornings of my youth were spent inhaling scrambled eggs, bacon and refried beans wrapped up in a 1/2-inch thick hot flour tortilla. I hadn’t tried crepes, omelettes, bagels or Hollandaise sauce until well into my 20s. Because why would I? But, the sad truth: Other people eat these food items because breakfast tacos aren’t ubiquitous!

When I moved to New Mexico for college, I wondered where all the breakfast tacos were. How did people survive? I ended up eating the really bad imitation McDonald’s breakfast tacos most mornings. By the time I was a senior, though, New Mexico started to catch on: A gas station opened up a breakfast taco bar, and I remember my roommates excitedly eating their first tacos. I nodded knowingly as they scarfed down the deliciousness: Welcome to my world, amigas. However, their excitement also was a little alarming — it was my first clue that maybe I grew up blessed, breakfast-wise, and that further travels would be even more breakfast taco lacking.

How right I was — I moved to New York in my mid-20s, and omg, I suffered my first real withdrawal. I asked myself, and anyone who would listen: WTF? WHERE ARE THE G-D TAQUITOS? New York City — which likes to think of itself as the capitol of the world — doesn’t have breakfast tacos?? I did eventually overcome the cravings, but let me tell you, it sucked (though it probably did help me lose weight, but that’s another discussion for another day. Ahem…).

After five years in New York, I moved here to Mexico City, and discovered another truth: There’s a great divide between Mexican food and Tex-Mex: Breakfast tacos don’t exist in Mexico, either! While there are some close runners-up for desayuno, like chilaquiles, you’ll never find scrambled eggs delicately tucked into a piping hot flour tortilla. Si, es cierto! I wouldn’t lie to you about such a serious topic!

However, now, as I prepare to move back to New York City in just a few short weeks, I’m a little encouraged. The Austin taco article is bizarrely popular on The New York Times’s web site. I’m hoping native New Yorkers are reading the article and thinking “how have I survived so long without a taquito each morning?” And so that, when I get back, I’ll find wise investors have opened up breakfast tacos stands/taquerias and wafts of carne guisada tacos spill onto the street alongside the fresh bagels. (No, I won’t hold my breath).

Signs of positive change? (Also #2 and #7 are also welcomed by Joy)

One very important request for potential new breakfast taco restaurant owners in New York: Please do better research than the Times reporter. The article hailed Austin as the top market for breakfast tacos. Whatever, güeyClearly Señor John T. Edge forgot to visit points north, east, west, and  most importantly, south, or else he would have realized that while Austin surely has delicious tacos, it’s no Corpus Christi, where, not only do we have a taco stand on almost every street corner (we like to claim the highest per capita taquerias in the country, a fact that has nothing to do with our our sky-high obesity rates) , we have a very special blog dedicated to elevating the breakfast taco to its true culinary heights.

As Tacotopia notes, “Corpus Christi may not have a lot going for it – what with the collapse of the domestic oil industry, stagnant growth, backwater politics, oppressive heat. There are some things about it, however, that are truly wonderful. And one of these things is breakfast tacos.”

Breakfast tacos

Behold the best breakfast ever!!!! (Photo from Tacotopia)

Walking on a Carpet of Mexican Flower Petals

Spring has arrived in Mexico City, and you can’t fathom what a welcome change it is: While we didn’t get blankets of snow this past winter, we did receive multiple severe cold snaps without the balm of central heat. I was miserably cold from November until February, shivering at my desk in multiple layers of clothing, drinking cup of tea after cup of tea, and cursing my Raynaud’s syndrome for rendering my toes feeling-less.

I definitely enjoy my Mexico City life a lot better when I can walk around barefooted in my own home, with all the windows open, while the fat robins sing and the flowers bloom. An added bonus is that every March Mother Nature showers the neighborhood with a carpet of purple jacaranda blossoms, making it almost fantasy-like (except for the police sirens,  insane/rude drivers and piles of dog feces…)

Anyway, I digress. Nine photos I took on my lunch-time walk with my dog today, plus one other I had been waiting to post, from Malinalco:

Hibiscus (jamaica) grows year-round in Mexico City, but it's particularly vibrant right now.

I'm pretty sure this is a ginger plant. Ginger is rarely used in Mexican cooking, however.

These trees produce numerous huge, droopy blossoms.

This odd, vein-patterned red-orange flowers grows on a tall bush. It's hard to photograph because it's a very delicate flower, always moving in the slightest breeze.

Years ago, jacaranda trees were smartly planted all over the city, especially in the parks. Each March, they burst with fragrant purple blossoms....

..covering the sidewalks with purple petals.

The vibrant red flowers of the coral tree are used in a few traditional Central Mexican dishes, though I'm told they're essentially flavorless.

This cabellin flower is from a tree in Malinalco, where I visited last month with my parents. It's about 2 hours from the city. The flower's native name is Xiloxochitl -- see-lo-so-chee-tull.

These Chinese lantern flowers grow very well in the city.

White, pink and fuschia (shown here) azaleas are reaching their peak right now.

These low-lying orange flowers only bloom this time of year. They must be bulbs, but of course I don't know their names. Bulb flowers do well here, except for tulips.