Dinnertime in Mexico

By Nora Vasconcelos

Dinnertime in Mexico can be easily compared with a delicious fun time in the sense that all sort of dishes, formal, typical, informal, elaborate or simple, may appear at the table when the time to call it a day comes. Either if it’s at 6pm or very late at night.

Although the most important meal in this country takes place usually around lunch time, when it comes to the the last meal of every journey all is welcome: tortas, tacos, quesadillas, mole, pozole, sweet bread, ice cream, tamales, tostadas, meat, pasta, pizza…

However, dinnertime might as well consist of cereal, fruit, yogourth or milk.

Pretty much, everyday is different, but, the options are always there, to choose whatever fits to any hungry, or not so hungry, diner.

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Dinnertime

‘Second Chances’ – Short Story

By Nora Vasconcelos

It had been 10 years since I had been here the last time.

The city looked cleaner and bigger. Somehow, more modern, even when all the colonial buildings that mixed the best of the old Spanish and Mexican architecture were still standing around the small central park.

Certainly the main buildings had been cleaned up, and I should say, they looked majestic. New plant stands had been set along the City Hall and some floor to ceiling windows had been added to the office destined to greet tourists.

In the park, things remained the same as I remembered them. A big fountain in the middle of the square, splashing water to all people who walked close by. The tall trees seemed to play with the soft breeze, their branches moving from one side to the other, causing ghostly shadows to reflect on the pavement, giving the whole place an interesting contrast that made dark and sunny areas mix in a unique combination.

My walk across the park took less than ten minutes until I reached one of the galleries that were formed between the space left by the inside buildings and the arches that ran all along the main square, those that people in Puebla called Los Arcos.

Fearing the place wouldn’t be there any more, I walked faster the last steps before reaching it. Lucky for me, it was still open for business.

La cazuela –the cooking pot– was one of the many little restaurants that served locals and tourists some of the best typical dishes for which Puebla was well known around Mexico and in several countries around the world.

The feature dish mole poblano, was often known by foreigners as chicken in chocolate sauce, which I always found a bit funny because, being a Mexican to me chocolate sauce sounded more like a liquid preparation you add to your dessert and not something you have for your main course. And that was the funniest thing, the dish in fact had chicken, or turkey, in it, but the sauce was a thick mixture of several dry chilies and spices with just a small portion of chocolate to make the hot preparation a mild one, quite tasty and not that hot after the concoction was finished.

Anyways, I wasn’t here for the famous mole, nor for the also famous chiles en nogada, the same recipe for poblano chilies stuffed with minced beef and fruits covered with walnut sauce that centuries ago was made for the first time by a group of nouns, a little after Mexico had gained its independence from Spain.

No, my purpose was not the food, although I asked for a table and checked on the menu before ordering today’s meal: arroz con pollo. Some fried rice with tomato sauce and chicken would be all what my stomach could take. My nerves were making me feel uneasy as time passed by inside the place.

Nothing had changed there. The same walls with the old paintings showing some of the passages of the history of Puebla still decorated the restaurant.

Crowded tables with colorful tablecloths in red, white and green were surrounded by hungry people who looked happy to dip their fingers along with their corn tortillas inside the thick mole preparation.

As I waited for my food, my heart started beating faster …Is he still here? I wondered. A decade had passed by since we had seen each other for the last time, and I still remembered him, the same as if it had been yesterday.

At that time, both of us were working at this same restaurant, I was a waitress, he a bartender, and as it often happens when people spend many hours together, we went from polite coworkers to best friends to couple of the year.

But us being engaged lasted less than a week. At that time, I was offered a job in California, working for a fancy food chain, and I took the chance. I knew the timing was terrible for us, but the money I’d earn would help my little brothers and sisters finish school and it’d give my folks a well-deserved rest. They had kept working for several years after their retirement age because their saving weren’t enough to feed five kids and pay for their education.

Besides, Dad’s raw materials store had to close down after a big supermarket had opened on the same street. Then all their dreams of a comfortable life at their old age disappeared. No more dreams for them to see with their own eyes the Mediterranean Sea, and no more dreams of me becoming a college girl soon to be married to a loving man.

California was the answer to all our problems. Or almost all, because secretly, I had been wishing for another gorgeous thing to happen. I knew I was ambitious, but I wished with all my heart that I could keep my new job and my beloved man. He hadn’t been offer a position, although he had applied for it at the same time I had done it.

He promised he’d found a solution but things happened too fast. One day he had looked at me as if I were the most beautiful girl in the world, the only girl in the world he wanted to marry, and the next week he was staring at me silently, with his mouth half open as if words were stuck in his throat, unable to move, unable to say good bye.

We simply stood there, right in front of each other. I had stopped by the restaurant to see him for the last time, wishing deep inside he’d change his mind, wishing he said he’d found a way to go with me, wishing he’d say he’d wait for me. But he didn’t say any of those things.

When I entered the place, carrying my suitcase, he looked at me with his deep hazel eyes and smiled at me as if the sunrise had just appeared on the horizon.

‘I’m leaving,’ I said softly, with all the strength I was able to gather.

We looked at each other for a long second that in our hearts was equal to the eternity. We didn’t speak a word and yet we said I love you to each other with our eyes, speaking in silence, all in that long lingering painful second…

‘Well, I’m leaving,’ I said, wanting so badly he reached for me. But that didn’t happened. He didn’t even say good-bye to me. He just stayed there, looking at me, intensely, as if the world were closing its curtain for the last time …and yet, he said nothing.

I walked away and as I got close to the bus stop I turned my face to see him, at least one more time. And there he was standing in the same position. He hadn’t move, he hadn’t even turned his head away, he was still there looking at me as I was leaving. And then, I left.

Ten years had passed since that day, and here I was again. Back at the same restaurant. Hoping he’d still be here.

The smells coming from the kitchen made me hungry. It was hard to resist all those aromas mixed in amusing combinations. My eyes then toured the place, looking for his familiar face. I knew I hadn’t seen him in so long but his features remained fresh on my mind, exactly the same as the last time we had seen each other.

I looked at the bar, and sighed disappointed when a bartender I didn’t recognized was serving drinks to a group of businessmen.

Probably he isn’t here any more, why should he? I though. My mood was turning as grey as the sky that was getting ready for an early rainfall.

What if he is still here and he doesn’t want to see me? May be he has a family now and he has forgotten all about me… Doubts and more doubts were all over my head. What is the point of me being here…? I wondered.

My arroz con pollo finally arrived, along with some warm tortillas, fresh guacamole made with local avocado and a sampler of different hot sauces.

I thanked the waiter, looked at my food and turned my face to the window.

The city looked truly magnificent. How much I had missed it. All those buildings made with stone blocks, the towers and domes that dominated the architecture of the place, the colours that brought to life old constructions that had been renovated. Everything reminded me of the good old times.

Are there any chances for us? I closed my eyes and sighed again. Deeper this time.

I took my fork and got it into my rice. Then I looked around one more time.

One of the small murals presented an old configuration of the city and a legend placed at the top of it that said: Puebla de los Angeles. Then I thought, if this city has always been so magical as to deserved being called in the old legends as the city that the angels built, would it be enough to make my dreams come true..?

(To be continued next Wednesday on Obinna Udenwe’s Blog: )

croosover artwork OK
* This story is part of The Crossover Mexico-Nigeria Project

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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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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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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.

Spinach

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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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!

author_portrait petit four

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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Flavours that make us happy

By Nora Vasconcelos

coverIf you love natural ingredients, but you also like fresh tasty food, Homemade Condiments is a book that will bring a whole new life to your table.

As it’s quoted in the introducción, “condiments are like old friends, highly thought of, but often taken for granted”, so, it’s almost impossible to picture our lives with out them, but we often think of them as products we always can get from the supermarket.

To change this, Jessica Harlan developed this book to offer the readers the chance to prepare their own ketchups, salad dressings, mayonnaises, and so many more delicious condiments, all prepared with fresh natural ingredients, some of which people usually already have in their own pantries.

“Making your own condiments is easy and fun”, says Jessica as she explains that some of the advantages of preparing them at home is that these can be customized with ingredients that create flavors according to different tastes and needs.

“It’s also fun“, she says, as there’s a special satisfaction on sharing them with family and friends, either they come home for a meal, or if you give them as presents.

To help everybody to prepare their own condiments, this book published by Ulysses Press, presents recipes that go from different kinds of ketchups, mustards and mayonnaises, to essential sauces for barbecues and other dishes, infused oils and vinegars and salad dressings.

chipotle 1
chipotle 2

It also presents different forms to prepare pickles and relishes, hot sauces and salsas, ethnic and specialty condiments, and sweet sauces and spreeds, for the ones who love desserts.

Tomato 1
Tomato 2

At the end of the book, the author offers advice on how to preserve and can the condiments, as well as how to prepare the containers as gifts.

* All images courtesy of Ulysses Press

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