Mexico City: A taste of the world

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By Nora Vasconcelos

It doesn’t matter how many times you visit the Main Square in Mexico City, there is always something new to discover. In this case an international fair which, for 11 days, has displayed the traditions, culture and food of 94 countries from all around the world.

When I visited the place, la Feria de las Culturas Amigas had already attracted a lot of people, even when it was early in the morning. Everyone, full of curiosity, walked around the aisles of the fair, anxious to know what was exhibited in each stand.

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From souvenirs to local products, it was the food which became the biggest hit of the event. So, it was easy to see people carrying two or three plates with different dishes. At the same time, the delicious smells coming from the stands, made it hard to resist all those unique flavors, from Thai and Japanese to Latin American, European, and the Middle East.

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Then, the souvenirs, clothes, and illustrations completed the illusion of being on a trip around the world in which no plane was required, just a good pair of shoes and some patience to move around the crowd.

In the end, despite the heat and the lines, the time spent at the fair brought out that nice feeling that only comes when you’ve just come back from a fantastic holiday!

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The Crossover Mexico – Nigeria Project

By Nora Vasconcelos and Obinna Udenwe

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Two writers, Nora Vasconcelos, from Mexico, and Obinna Udenwe, from Nigeria, have teamed up in a potentially huge and courageous short story project titled ‘Crossover Mexico-Nigeria’. The Project will have the two writers daring to bridge the gap between lives in two continents.

For a short period of time, they will produce a total of ten short stories chronicling lives in both Nigeria and Mexico. Each short story of 3,000 words will have each of them contributing 1,500 words each. One of them will start a story and write it up to 1500 words long, then the other picks it up and adds another 1500 words.

In total ‘Crossover Mexico-Nigeria’ will have each writer (Obinna and Nora) starting five stories each, and the other completing it, to bring the total number of stories in the project to ten.

Nigeria and Mexico share a lot in common – both face several problems and challenges, at the same time, these two countries have people who fall in love, who are patriots, who want to see their country grow and shine.

The two writers were connected in 2014 in an international blog tour, invited by Trish Nicholson (@trishanicholson), from New Zeland. The blog tour fostered a friendship that has defied distance, and made them believe that the world has been ensconced in a shell by the internet, making everything possible.

‘Crossover Mexico-Nigeria’ will talk about current issues such as migration, politics, the way we live, family, difficult decisions, love, and much more.

Each story will be uploaded in their blogs (www.obinnaudenwe.blogspot.com, & https://thetravelingbookclub.wordpress.com/). Then the links will be shared on social media.

When they have completed and published online the ten stories, they will try looking for a suitable home for it, getting ‘Crossover Mexico-Nigeria’ published in a print book form. (Interested publishers are welcomed for negotiations right away.)

Obinna Udenwe’s Comment:
Nora Vasconcelos and I became friends in 2014 after a blog tour that brought us together with Trish Nicholson (@trishanicholson) and Andrew Hill (@jazprose)  from the US. Then in 2015, we decided that having experienced what the internet could do in bridging hundreds of miles, we could embark on a daring, adventurous, fun and witty short story project. Each story will be started by either Nora or myself and completed by the other. So imagine completing a story started by another writer, without knowing firsthand how the other had wanted the story to end, wouldn’t that be hilarious?

Nora Vasconcelos’ Comment:
I’ve always been amazed by the closeness that internet creates, no matter how far away people are, a simple click can bring them together. It’s technology as well which makes this project a reality, allowing two writers, living in two continents, to complete each other’s stories with no more than a great deal of imagination. The same as Obinna, I want to akwnowledge the constant support of our friends, Trish and Andrew.

Our Bios

Obinna Udenwe is the author of a debut political, conspiracy, crime thriller, ‘Satans & Shaitans’ set in Nigeria against the backdrop of the ongoing tensions. His short stories have appeared in the Kalahari Review, African Roar, Brittle Paper, Tribe, Alariwo, ANA Review, Fiction365 and many more.

Nora Vasconcelos is the author of the children’s book ‘Pequeñas Fantasias’, published in Spanish, along with several news stories and exclusive feature pieces about finances and architecture written for different nationwide Mexican media. She has been a blogger since 2011, interviewing international authors and writing stories in English about books and travel.

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French food, language, and culture… all in one book.

By Nora Vasconcelos

book cover

Traveling around France is usually a dream full of images of lively cities, bakeries getting warm bread out of the oven, a café located in the heart of Paris, and a table served with assorted cheeses and a glass of wine.

But frequently, it’s also a dream of comunicating in French with all people and being able to order in that language all those delicious dishes at a restaurant, as well as being able to go to the supermarket to buy all the necessary products required to prepare a typical meal.

Thanks to The Farm to Table French Phrasebook, by Victoria Mas, this dream can come true for anyone who wants to know better the French cuisine, its country and its culture.

“I wanted to write a book in which readers could not only learn about french cuisine, but apprehend it from a cultural context. Understanding what the french eat is inseparable from how they eat. Learning about food habits is one of the best ways to learn about the food itself. Moreover, I thought it was necessary for readers to be able to master useful phrases and words in french so that they don’t feel lost when traveling abroad or decide to try a french cooking book.”, says Victoria.

Victoria Mas

– How did you decide which French expressions, foods and drinks would be included in this book?

I researched what were the most significant dishes and drinks in France in order to give a broad overview of french cuisine. However, I didn’t want to simply name a general list of food- I wanted readers to really approach the subject from a french point of view, and discover which food are typical on a day-to-day basis. I therefore talk extensively about bread, cheese and wine for instance, because indeed the french consume them almost everyday.

Regarding expressions, I looked for the most helpful phrases one might need either to express themselves or understand what is being said – whether it is at a restaurant, a bakery or the farmer’s market.

– Given that the Holiday season is around the corner, which would you say are the most popular French expressions, dishes and traditions around Christmas time and New Year’s?

Readers will find a whole section in the book dedicated to holidays, notably Christmas and New Year’s Eve. For Christmas Eve, the French enjoy a traditional turkey, along with a unique frozen dessert named la bûche (yule log).

As for New Year’s Eve, oysters by the dozens with a glass of champagne are typically consumed.

And here we can see some of the most common expressions of the holiday season:

French ExpressionsOK

It’s worth mantioning that France has more than 300 types of cheese, and produces some 6,024 million of bottles of wine a year.

French Wine Regions
French Wine Regions

The Farm to Table French Phrasebook, recently published by Ulysses Press, also contains a guide to the French Kitchen and several recipes of some of the most popular dishes originated in France.

So that, when this journey on paper ends, the readers will have enjoyed a culinary insight into “what, how and why the French eat”, and perhaps, as Veronica says in her book, they may have become “a little bit French” themselves.”

Bon appétit!

*Images courtesy of Ulysses Press

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Fun and delicious: Desserts Mash-Ups!

By Nora Vasconcelos

desserts cover
In 2010, Dorothy Kern started her blog Crazy for Crust because she wanted to increase the attention towards the pie crusts. But her love for desserts led her to create new fun and delicious recipes.

Throughout the years she started to see how entertaining and tasty was to transform two desserts into a totally different one. It was the beginning of a new trend and of a new book.

Dessert Mash-Ups presents recipes that combine all sort of textures and flavors into colorful and mouthwatering creations such as Sconuts, Blueberry Muffin Waffles and Peanut Butter Cup Brownie Bites.

Going through the pages of this book, recently published by Ulysses Press, is a total delight for dessert lovers, either because one wants to try them all, or because it’s really tempting to go straight to the kitchen and to start preparing them.

Last week, Dorothy was kind enough as to answer some questions for me about her book, here are her answers:

– When and how did you come up with the idea of “mashing up” desserts?

Actually, I’ve been doing it from the very beginning on my blog, Crazy for Crust. One of my earliest recipes was what I called a “Pieookie” which was a shortbread cookie shaped like a pie. Ever since then I’ve been mashing up desserts on a regular basis, so writing a book on the topic was just a natural progression.

– How did you decide which dessert could work well with which other one?

I tried to think of things that would work well as something else. I do this with pie on my blog all the time (pie fudge or pie cookies). I’ll regularly think: what can I turn into a s’more? or What will go good with brownies? and I go from there.

– Did you have to go through many attempts before you were able to develop all the recipes of this book?

Some of them were easier than others, for sure. Some of them I was able to do on the first try, and others to several attempts. I think the Lemon Bar Cheesecake took the prize: I made it about 4 times!

– Which was the funniest part and the most complex one of this process of creating new desserts?

I think the funniest part is seeing the looks on peoples’ faces when I tell them an idea. You see them process that you can turn fudge into pie and you can almost see the lightbulb moment they have, followed by the look that says “I want a piece of that!”

The most complex would definitely be the science behind it all. How can you make the recipe the way you want it to turn out and make it actually work? Sometimes that was successful and sometimes, like in the case of the Lemon Bar Cheesecake, I had to adjust my vision as I went along.

And here, some of her recipies:

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Cake Batter Blondie Bars

Dessert_Mash_Ups-MintChipTruffles

Mint Chips Truffles

Dessert_Mash_Ups-S'moresCookies

S’more Cookies

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Mexican traditions around the “Day of the Dead”

By Nora Vasconcelos

Decent

Year after year, in Mexico the last days of October and the first of November are characterized for the colorful altars dedicated to ‘the Dead’. Such offerings are composed with typial dishes, candy, flowers, and all sort of figures that represent happy skeletons elegantly dressed as if they were ready to start a funny party at any moment. They are commonly set in public spaces througout the country.

Happy

As much as this may seam a simple way to look at the death, in fact, it actually comes from centuries of years of the Mexican people keeping close to all those who have departed, with the hope that these altars and feasts will bring joy to their souls, as well as a warm feeling for those people who prepare the offerings.

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Weekly Photo: Signs

By Nora Vasconcelos

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101 Innovative and Delicious Sandwiches

By Nora Vasconcelos

Crazy for Breakfast Sandwiches Cover

If you’ve ever got bored of your everyday sandwich, or have wished you could take something delicious to eat during lunch time, then this book is for you!

Crazy for Breakfast Sandwiches , by Jessica Harlan, presents 101 recipes for “delicious, handheld meals”, all of them offering something original: from waffle sandwiches, to muffin pizzas and chili cheese dogs.

“Like most people, I rarely have time to make the elaborate morning meals of my dreams. My solution? For a quick and tasty morning meal, I make a sandwich. You can pack a world of flavors alongside an egg between pieces of bread, English muffin, or even bagel. Healthy or decadent, vegetarian or meaty – the choice is yours,” says Jessica Harlan in the introduction of her book.

Croissant

Published by Ulysses Press, this book offers all sort of ideas to prepare unexpected sandwiches in a short time. Taking the best advantage of the sandwich maker, fresh ingredients and made-in-advance food, the author has developed all sort of recipes, not only for breakfast but also for brunch, lunch and dinner.

Saussage and Cheese Biscuit, Turkey and Egg Whites, Herb Pancakes with Prosciutto, Chicken and Waffles, and the classic Ham and Egg English Muffin are some of the ideas that give everyone something delicious to eat every day.

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And for those who are dessert lovers, innovative recipes come along with this book as well, from Apple Pie Donut Sandwich to S’mores Toasts and Warm Strawberry Shortcake, among others.

Warm Mini Cheesecakes

Either if you prepare your sandwiches to eat them at home, to take them to work or to school, these small combos made of bread in all its different forms, and creative and delicious food, are meant to be enjoyed with every single bite.

Bon Appétit!

* All images courtesy of Ulysses Press

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The dream of Crusing the Panama Canal… and writing about it!

By Nora Vasconcelos

panama canal photo

As it often happens we save things to do them “someday”, but for Sunny and Al Lockwood a car accident made them decide that “someday was today” and then they agreed that it was time for them to go on that long dreamed cruise that would take them from San Francisco, California to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, traveling for 17 days aboard The Zuiderdam, a cruise ship which also would sail from the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic through the Panama Canal.

But the dream didn’t end there, from their experiences, Al and Sunny wrote a book: Cruising Panama’s Canal, savoring 5,000 nautical miles and 500,000 decadent calories, published by Front Porch Publishing.

panama cover book

“We came up with the idea before we left on the cruise. We were reading books and articles about the history of the Canal in preparation for our cruise, and the history was so dramatic, so fascinating that we thought describing our trip through the canal would be interesting to others,” tells me Sunny, while talking about their book.

“Since I’ve made my living as a writer (for newspapers and magazines), I go through life with a notebook and pen in my hand. And Al almost always has a camera. So the idea of writing about our trip seemed pretty ‘normal’ to us.”

So, after 17 days cruising, and one year working about 5 days a week on their book, “writing and re-writing, cutting and throwing out stories, adding stories, trying to shape and polish”, Sunny and Al completed a book that invites the readers to be part of this literary trip, like good all friends who get together to share their traveling stories, from the moment they booked the trip, to the time they boarded the ship, the amazement that came from finding such an ample art collection aboard, as well as the cooking classes, the fun and relaxing times and the unexpected and surprising experiences.

Page by page, they take the readers along with them through the different areas of the ship, share their advice on how to keep fit and healthy, and their thoughts on how to transform the desserts time into magical and savory moments whenever Al has the chance to indulge his sweet tooth and write about it.

“I know a fair bit about desserts because I just love eating them. I also love cooking—baking especially, but I’m purely self-taught. And every time I find something really unusual—the Sacher Torte, for example, I’ll research its history (that one’s fascinating),” says Al when I ask him about his deep knowledge on the subject.

Al and Sunny also share their experiences on how to make the most of the shore excursions that, in their case, took them (and the readers along) to visit places like Zihuatanejo and Huatulco in Mexico; Costa Rica and its beautiful natural wonders and its unique Doka Estate and Coffee Plantation (a real paradise for coffee lovers); Cartagena, Colombia, and Half Moon Cay, Bahama.

And when the long awaited time comes to cross the Panama Canal, they share in great detail, step by step, all what it takes for a ship as big as The Zuiderdam (operated by Holland American Line), to fit into the different sections of the Canal.

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Funny, entertaining and informative, Cruising Panama’s Canal invites everyone to go along on this journey “of thousands of miles and tens of thousands of calories”. Because this book is much more than a travel guide, this is a book that “has been a labor of love and sharing”, as the authors state on the acknowledgments section.

* All the images and photos courtesy of Al and Sunny Lockwood

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Weekly Photo: Containers

By Nora Vasconcelos

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Big joy in the form of colorful little desserts

By Nora Vasconcelos

Petit_Four-gift_box

Often when I’d had the chance to enjoy some delicious petit fours, I wondered how much time it would take to prepare them, and how complicated it’d be, but now, thanks to Brooks Coulson Nguyen, I’ve seen that it’s actually possible to prepare them at home!

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In 2004, Coulson opened Dragonfly Cakes, a bakery in California, USA, and ever since she’s been creating new designs and flavor combinations. At the end of 2013, she published with Ulysses Press The Petit Four Cookbook

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“I have always loved baking and decided to make the jump in lifestyle so that I could incorporate my family into each piece of my life. Not all corporate jobs allow for the work-life balance I was looking for. I was on a business trip in New Orleans when I decided that I would send myself to pastry school,” tells me Brooks while talking about opening her own busines. “It is extremely challenging at times but it is very rewarding. It is fun to be able to use my creative side every day! I love owning my own business.”

In her book, Coulson explains in a very simple way, the steps that are needed to prepare these adorable bite-size delicacies, from the equipment (mixer, bowls, cookie sheets, cookie cutters, etc.) to the preparation, the assembly and the decoration of the little desserts.

“Petit fours take more time because each piece of cake needs to be cut into a precise shape before they are dipped into the coating,” explains Brooks, however, this task can be done over two days. And once the petit fours are complete, the satisfaction of seen them is well worth it.

Chocolate Sponge Cake

Either if they’re prepared to surprise a family member, give them as presents for birthdays or special holidays or as a part of a celebration like a wedding or a baby shower, the petit fours turn the dessert time into a memorable experience.

* All photos courtesy of Ulysses Press

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