May 2011 Archives

I'm enjoying the delicious cool pool water as I listen to a CD by Chris Becker, "Saints and Devils." SaintsandDevilscover.jpgThe music uses nat sound collected over the years, Louisianna musicians, archival data and layers them, arranges them beautifully. It has danceable rhythms, beautiful soulful pieces, jazzy songs. The music is complex, energizing, just really beautiful... and addictive to listen to.
It reminds me of Olivier Messiaen's beautiful compositions, especially those where he attempted to mimic, on the piano, the trilling of birds. Chris Becker doesn't mimic but actually records nat sounds (his dog barking! bells tolling, candid conversations) and musicalizes them. The CD has 10 tracks. It's a symphonic experience.

Go here to listen to some of the tracks and also to buy the CD.

I'll write more after the holidays.

I thought of this topic after despairing of finding a cooked flour tortilla in local restaurants. Undercooked raw-dough flour tortillas are the staple of Houston TexMex restaurants. I don't think raw wheat flour is part of Tex-Mex cuisine but our restaurateurs obviously do. Certainly no Mexican-American household ever serves raw flour tortillas.
As shown in this Carne con Chile taco, I always fully cook my flour tortillas.

And this brings me to the point: "TexMex" cuisine invites debate and contestation. It has been reviled as a bastardized cuisine and also praised for holding together the identity of Texas natives. The label itself is contested since it describes a cuisine that existed even before Texas and Mexico were geopolitical jurisdictions.

The cuisine has ancient roots (500 BC) and is fully grounded in this cohesive region, terroir, just North and South of the Rio Grande. Over time the various peoples who came to this region had to cook with what was available and to learn cooking techniques from natives. They had to in order to survive. But they also added from their traditions, perhaps ingredients they had brought with them from wherever they emigrated.

I would describe TexMex cuisine as an ancient stalwart tree taking its flavor profile primarily from the land, from all that goes into the "terroir." As it grows over time, various peoples and cultures graft themselves onto it, defining themselves by it, finding nourishment and strength. It is an evolving cuisine certainly with faulty commercialized spots, but with celebratory tones that define our culture.
So in a sense it is natural that TexMex be contested because it represents us, a community in the making. In touch with and exploring our roots but unafraid of changing and adding.

All this said, I'll continue to be riled at not finding a COOKED FLOUR TORTILLA!
¡Ay Dios Mío!

"Aires" and poetry

margaritaAiresml.jpgmy margarita with a salt "Aire" served at Oyamel restaurant in DC of Chef José Andres who yesterday was named Best Chef by the James Beard Foundation. The "aire" is the "molecular cooking" technique that creates highly flavored foams using the chemical, lecithin. A nice cocktail in preparation for tomorrow when I'll attend the White House "Evening of Poetry" and where I'll ask the question: was the food at the poetry reception "poetic?"

Cinco de Mayo Margarita

margarita.jpgMy friend, Chef Iliana de la Vega, shows how to make THE margarita. Perfect for Cinco de Mayo guests but also year-round. Cinco de Mayo is not the celebration of Mexican Independence. It remembers the battle of Puebla, a city just about 100 miles south of Mexico City, where Mexicans successfully fought against the attack of a much larger army of French invadors.
Chef De La Vega's approach is a lesson in fresh ingredients and straightforward, proper blends. THE margarita, amigos and amigas:

Thank you to the Culinary Institute of America for this video link.

Lest we become what we despise

Bin Laden was a monstruous mass murderer. An arrogant, evil man with no conscience. I'm glad he's dead and not able to kill. But celebrating his death is a thorny thing.
Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, religion editor of the Huffington Post, masterfully frames our collective moment in terms of grief and relief. His type of celebration takes us away from destructive hatred and toward a society of sane human beings. He writes: ladendeathflag.jpg
"I was a chaplain at Columbia University during September 11, 2001. Two days after the attacks, some of my students put on an art exhibit in response called Peace Kitchen. In one piece a student had put a film of bin Laden's face over a mirror so we saw our own face staring back at us through his. The point was not that there was equivalency between Bin Laden and us, but to acknowledge that evil is not something that only exists outside of us that we can point to and kill once and for all. Evil doesn't work like that. All humans have the potential for grace, but we also all have the potential to sin and do evil. It is a tempting yet dangerous practice to look around the world for evil people and target them. That is just what Osama Bin Laden thought he was doing. We must be vigilant that we do not become what we despise. We must be careful in the way we use religion and the name of God to further our own causes or to ever manipulate people into hate or hate.

So, let us mute our celebrations. Let any satisfaction be grim and grounded in the foundation of justice for all who have suffered at bin Laden's bloody hands. And also justice for crimes against God -- for using God as an instrument of terror and and promoting distrust between peoples of different religions and nations. Let us put bin Laden's body in the ground, and in doing so bury his disastrous and blasphemous religious legacy. "
May we hear, read and see more of this type of "celebration."

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This page is an archive of entries from May 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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