Saturday, December 3, 2016

On Street Food, Mexico, and the Joys of Tacos

I loved to travel as a kid, I still do.  One of the things that impacted my view on the world, my perception of the world beyond me, and how I approach life in many ways was our trips to Mexico while I was growing up.

My grandparents had a place in San Carlos, just north of Guaymus.  Both are in the state of Sonora, both are right on the Sea of Cortez, which many in the US call the Gulf of California.  It was a place of the sea, Pacific, but not quite, the Sea had its own feel, it’s own character, not quite the same as the ocean it connects to.  Guamyus is a port city, San Carlos is a bit more touristy.  The whole area, the Guaymus valley, has traditionally been a ranching and fishing area.  My grandparents spent every winter there, for many years.

Our first trip down, we took the bus to my other grandparents’ house in Apple Valley, in Southern California and spent Christmas with them, then flew from Los Angeles into Tijuana, where we had an interesting experience of no signs, no directions, no one to tell us anything, and armed military patrolling, then on to Hermosillo, the capital of Sonora.  My grandparents picked us up there and took us home.  I was quite young then, seven or eight, I believe, and it was a great adventure to me and my sister, we loved it.

Later on, we drove down over Christmas for several years, and we have many stories about those trips. By then I was a teenager, and in high school.  I enjoyed every trip.

While many things stick out, going fishing on my grandpa’s boat, the street markets and shops, the beach and the oasis up in the hills, food was a major part of everything for me.

The markets, in addition to many other things, fresh fruits and vegetables that were a delight, and hanging meat in the meat market, which I wasn’t quite as enthused about in the heat.  Winter there, though cool for the rich and middle-class Mexicans from further south who vacationed there to get out of the greater heat where they lived, was much hotter than summers were, where I lived growing up, in Northern Idaho, Western Oregon, and Western Wyoming.  I also remember going to a fish market and my grandpa bartering for a cheaper price on some of the best fish I’ve ever eaten.

Of course, also, the fish we caught out on the boat then ate that evening, the grapefruit off the tree by grandparents had growing there, the fresh bottled pop made the way it used to be here in the US and still is there, the meals my grandma cooked from the local produce and meat.

And the restaurants.  Both the more fancy ones and the street type venders.

The fancy restaurants weren’t so different from the fancier Mexican restaurants here in Colorado, with slightly different flavours, as Mexican food is regional, just like American food, Canadian food, Italian food, Chinese food, food all over the world.  One thing that stuck with me as a kid was a difference in approach, that said a lot about the local culture and views of things.  In Mexico, at least in the local run restaurants in Sonora I’ve eaten in, they don’t bring the check until you ask for it.  It is felt that to bring it before then is to ask you to leave, and that is seen as very rude.  You can stay as long as you like, and if you decide you’re still hungry, or hungry again, by all means, order more.  When you’re ready leave, ask for the check, everything will be on it, and we hate to see you go, but are glad you enjoyed.  I really like that perspective on serving and feeding your customer.

The street type venders were a completely thing all together.  This wasn’t a restaurant where you came and sat and were served, this was a cart or stand where you came, got your food, and enjoyed it.  Maybe there were seats nearby, maybe there weren’t.  Maybe it was a cart by the curb or in the market, or being pushed up the road to sell to the people driving, maybe it was a stand in a mall.  Regardless, you said what you want, got it quickly, paid, and were on your way, next customer.

Street food the world over is a different beast from other types of restaurants, even “fast food”.  It is quick, efficient, simple, and a thing of beauty in many ways.  You want to serve something easy to eat on the go, easy to make what’s needed in large quantities in advance to not keep the customers waiting, and yet still unique and favourable enough to have your customers keep coming back.  Whether it’s sushi in Japan, noodles in Thailand, hot dogs in the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colorado, or a taco stand in Mexico or Longmont, you don’t come back if you can’t remember enjoying it.  You come back because you were pleased.  And because it was fast enough you could get on with whatever you were doing when you stopped for a bite.

One of out trips down, we stopped at a taco stand in the mall in Gauymas.  I have no idea if it is still there, or still the same, but it changes the way I looked at tacos, what I wanted them to taste like and be like.  We had seen many taco carts that the smell of made your mouth water, but were a bit wary of them, being unused to the local germs (people get sick coming from other parts of the world to the US or from the US to many parts of the world, the reputation of Mexican water and what not in the US is a result primarily in different strains that Americans haven’t built immunity to, which applies either direction, than any other reason people might claim).  But the one in the mall was in air conditioning with good power and what not, it seemed a good place to try the street food without as much worry, and my grandpa, if I recall, had eaten there previously and vouched for it.

The tacos were simple.  Just corn tortillas cooked quickly on a griddle, shredded meat put inside, a choice of a few toppings.  And it was amazing.  We had them simple, just tortilla, meat, and fresh cilantro.  It was the first time we’d knowingly had cilantro, and the first time we had ever had it fresh.  From then on, it was always on the table when my mom made tacos, the first change to who we, and later I, approached tacos.

A number of years later, when I was in college, those tacos still called to me.  I began trying to make something similar.  I went to the grocery store and tried to by shredded beef.  I recall the tacos being shredded beef, though they might have been pork, that’s how my dad remembers them.  Regardless, they didn’t have shredded beef or shredded pork, and at that time, i was uncertain who to go about making either myself.  I got as close as I could, I had them shave roast beef as thin as they could, then I tore it up before cooking it.  It was close, and definitely closer than hamburger, which is what I had been used to having and using.

I fried the roast beef in olive oil, juice from a jar of jalapeños, and lime juice, then as it cooked, added fresh cilantro and onions, and a bunch of spices.  It was very good, and closer to what I was looking for, though not really there.  I would fry the tortillas in a frying pan in olive oil, put meat in it, add fresh onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and cilantro, and put some salsa and jalapeños on top.  They were very good, kind of a blending of the tacos I had in Mexico and the tacos I grew up on.  I didn’t have much money at that time, and they were simple and a small amount went a long way.  I at them for two meals most days for probably eight months, eating very little else.  And never got tired of them.  I have made them for years since, only using hamburger when I want something quick or want a more Americanized version of tacos.

Living in Longmont, Colorado now, an area that has a lot more hispanics, primarily of Mexican descent or up from Mexico working, I have at least seven Mexican food places within a couple blocks’ walk, if you don’t count American Mexican fast food.  Also, there is a grocery store right near me, in walking distance, that sells primary groceries and produce and meat local and from Mexico, catering to the Hispanic population in the neighbourhood, and carniceria, a Mexican-style meat market, just around the corner from it.  If you love Mexican food as much as I do, it’s a great place to live.

One of the Mexican places is a business made up of a hot dog food cart, a taco food cart, and a slushy food cart.  I have not tried the hot dogs of slushies, but I love their tacos.  They are so much like the tacos I remembered from Mexico, over twenty years ago, that when I first had them this last summer, I fell in love with them.  They are amazing.  And you know it’s authentic when probably 85% of the customers greet and are greeted by the people running the carts in Spanish.  And, having had tacos in Mexico, they are the most like Mexican tacos, at least from the area I was in, that I’ve ever found.

Being inspired, I realized my knowledge of cooking, as well as the information I could find close at hand, had expanded a lot since the late 90s when I perfected my last version of my tacos.  I have a much more equipped kitchen than I did back then.  I decided to see how close I could come to the amazing tacos I had had in Mexico and the amazing ones I have close by.

I obtained a beef chuck roast to make the shredded beef from.  I’m unsure if it was beef or pork in Mexico, but what I get from the stand near me is shredded beef, so I decided to start with that, and try pork the next time.  I also acquired a bottle to use to apply oil on the tortillas.  The stand near me used this, and tongs to flip the tortillas, and it works very well, so I went with that.

I then set about making tacos, using what I had learned and perfected with my previous tacos combined with the memory of the ones in Mexico and what I see with the ones near me, and a bit of research into various recipes for shredded or pulled beef.  What follows is the end result, my version of the tacos I love.  And they turned out exactly how I hoped them would.  I still go to my taco stand, but I also can enjoy the experience and smells and tastes of cooking them right here in my home.


Shredded Beef or Pork Tacos

As prepared by Bethany most recently on November, 24, 2016.  Recipe written December 2, 2016

These tacos are my version of those I had in Mexico at a taco stand in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico in the 1990s, combined with twenty years of experimentation, reworked based on tacos from a taco stand in Longmont, Colorado, and adaptation of various recipes for shredded beef.

Note:  Read the recipe at least three times before starting.  Modification, adaptation, substitution, etc, is encouraged, not understanding what comes next is not.

Prep Time: 4-8 Hours
Amount: Make enough for at least 18 tacos
Total Ingredients:

1 Boneless Beef Chuck Roast or Boneless Pork Shoulder or Loin Roast, approximately 1 pound
3 Yellow Onions or 2 Yellow Onions and 1 Red Onion
2 Cloves Garlic (optional, I didn’t use them)
1 Bunch Fresh Cilantro
1 Stack Fresh Corn Tortillas (they should be about 4 inches across, to use all the meat, at least 18)
1 Jar Jalapeños
Gold Tequila
Lime Juice
1 Can Beef Broth
1 Can Whole Peeled Tomatoes in Tomato Sauce
1 Can Chopped Jalapeños
1 Can Chopped Green Chilis (optional, I didn’t use them)
Lard, Butter, or Oil (canola would be best if using an oil, because of milder flavour than most other high smoke point oils)
Vegetable Oil (I use canola) or liquid lard or liquid meat grease to fry the torillas
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Powdered Oregano
Chili Powder
Cayenne Pepper
Ground Cumin
Black Pepper
Ground Coriander Seed (optional)

Total Equipment:

Frying Pan
Griddle or Similar
Slow Cooker
Cutting Board
Kitchen Sheers
Rubber Spatula
Can Opener
Sealable Container or Bowl and Plastic Wrap
Bottle for the Oil

The Meat:

Makes enough for approximately 18 tacos.

Start approximately 4 hours 15 minutes before serving on high or 8 hours 15 minutes on low.


1 Boneless Beef Chuck Roast or Boneless Pork Shoulder Roast, approximately 1 pound
1 Yellow Onion (chopped coarse)
1 Can Beef Broth
1 Jar Jalapeños (only a splash of the juice is needed)
1 Splash of Gold Tequila
1 Splash of Lime Juice
Lard, Butter, or Oil  to sear the meat (canola would be best if using an oil, because of milder flavour than most other high smoke point oils)
Garlic Powder
Onion Powder
Powdered Oregano
Chili Powder
Cayenne Pepper
Ground Cumin
Black Pepper
Ground Coriander Seed (optional)

Frying Pan (I prefer cast iron)
Slow Cooker
Cutting Board
Can Opener


1. Season the outside of the roast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Bring an oiled pan (I used a small spoonful of lard) to medium-high heat.  Sear the seasoned roast, waiting for the sides to fully sear before using tongs to flip it.  Place the roast in the slow cooker.

2. Chop an onion coarsely and add it to the slow cooker.

3. Mix the sauce.  Mix beef broth, tequila, lime juice, and juice from the jalapeño jar in a large bowl.  Add garlic powder, onion powder, powdered oregano, ground coriander seed, chili pounder, paprika, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, black pepper, and salt, and mix in well with a wire whisk until as much of the powder as possible goes into solution (I forget the cooking term for this).  Pour the sauce over the roast and onions.

4. Cover the slow cooker and cook it for approximately 4 hours on high or approximately 8 hours on low.  This can also be done in a pot of the stove at medium-low to medium heat if you watch it.

5. When the meat turns dark brown and is soft when you run a fork over it, use two forks to pull it apart until no chunks remain.

The Salsa:

Makes enough for approximately 24 tacos if no options are used and salsa is only used for tacos.

Prepare after finishing putting everything for the meat in the crock pot, to allow time to chill.


1 Can Whole Peeled Tomatoes in Tomato Sauce
1 Can Chopped Jalapeños
1 Can Chopped Green Chilis (optional, I didn’t use them)
1 Yellow Onion (chopped fairly fine)
2 Cloves Garlic (optional, I didn’t use them)
1 Bunch Fresh Cilantro (only need a small handful)

Rubber Spatula
Cutting Board
Kitchen Sheers
Can Opener
Sealable Container or Bowl and Plastic Wrap


1. Open and drain the can of tomatoes and with a table knife, chop the tomatoes as much as possible to ease blending.  Add to blender.

2. Open and drain the can of jalapeños and, optionally, the can of green chilis, and add them.

3. Chop the onion fairly fine to ease blending and add it.  If you are adding garlic, smash the cloves and chop them fairly fine to ease blending and add them.

4. Chop a small handful of fresh cilantro with kitchen sheers, or, if one isn’t available, a knife, and add it.

5. Blend until sauce-like but not smooth, using the spatula to work chunks downward, avoiding the blades with the spatula.

6. Transer to a bowl or container and close, then chill until the meat is ready.


Fresh tomatoes instead of canned can be used.  I prefer Roma tomatoes because they have more flesh and less juice.  Fresh peppers can be used, make sure to deseed them first, and remember that that heat varies.  I would stick to, presuming fresh tomatoes, at most two jalapeños and one serrano per four regular tomatoes or eight Roma tomatoes, scale down the jalapeños if you use less tomatoes and don’t use anything hotter than jalapeños (i.e. serranos are much hotter) if you use less tomatoes than that.  Poblano peppers and Anaheim peppers are also good options and milder.  Peppers can also be roasted on a grill or in the oven on broil, then peeled.

Alternatively, a green salsa can be made with tomatillos instead of tomatoes, or with green chilis.  If using canned chilis and jalapeños, I’d recommend at least two if not three cans of green chilis for every can of jalapeños if you aren’t using tomatoes or tomatillos.  With fresh peppers, if you aren’t using tomatoes or tomatillos, at least double the volume of mild peppers compared to hot, triple would be recommended.

Salt can be added if the salsa comes out too hot.

Miscellaneous Prep:

Sometime between when the salsa is put aside and chilled and the meat is ready, preferably toward the end of cooking the meat, do any miscellaneous prep.

1. Chop one yellow or red onion very fine.

2. If you don’t have kitchen sheers, or would prefer to have the cilantro ready, chop the cilantro with a knife into a bowl or on a plate.

The Tortillas:

Each tortilla takes approximately thirty seconds if the griddle is already hot enough.
Prepare just before serving, after the meat is ready.

Ingredients and Equipment:

1 Stack Fresh Corn Tortillas (they should be about 4 inches across, to use all the meat, at least 18)
Vegetable Oil (I use canola oil)
Bottle for the Oil
Griddle or Similar


1. Heat a griddle to medium-high heat.  I use a round cast iron griddle with a small lip.  The bottom of a cast iron frying pan will work well if it’s big enough around, or one of the griddles that lays across multiple burners.  A regular frying pan works but won’t fry the tortillas as evenly or thoroughly, so will take a lot more care to get the tortillas to come out how they should.

2. When the griddle is hot when you put you palm near the surface (not on it!), spray a very small amount of oil across the surface.  I use the following with canola oil in it, grease from beef or pork, or lard, will work as well, if you keep it from solidifying.

3. Place one tortilla on the griddle and spray some oil across it, then immediately flip the tortilla with the tongs.  Spray more oil on it, and flip it back.  Wait approximately 15 seconds and flip the tortilla with the tongs, it should show signs of bubbling and browning.  Wait approximately 15 more seconds and flip it back.  Fry either side that doesn’t look done a bit longer, then put on plate.

4. If it’s too crisp to bend, it’s over down and not usable for the tacos.  If it takes more than 15 seconds on a side, the griddle is probably not hot enough.  If it looks dry or blackens quickly, it is not usable for the tacos, use more oil on the next one.

5. Repeat for however many tacos you need.  I do four per plate, but appetites vary.  More than four doesn’t fit will, though a fifth can be set in the centre on top of the others.


1. Use tongs to spread shredded meat evenly down the centre of each taco.

2. Add a small amount of onion across the meat.

3. Drizzle a line of salsa (more if you like if hotter, but not too much, it will hide the flavour) across the top.

4. Chop a small amount of cilantro across the top with the kitchen sheers, or sprinkle cilantro if you already chopped it.  For people not used to cilantro, take it easy on how much you add.

5. Place two slices of jalapeños from the jar on top of each taco.  If they are too hot, leave them off.

6. Serve with a Mexican beer, a margarita, or ice tee.

7. Consume with abandon.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Pierogi, Real Pierogi: A Look at Food, Parallels, Influences, and Immigration

Food is universal.

One of the things that make food so interesting is that they are so universal.  Food is a shared human experience, everyone has experienced it in one form or another.  Because it is necessary.  Because it is essential to life.  When you get down to basics, when you have nothing else, only a few things remain important for survival.  Food is one of the more important of these.

Because food is so essential, it tends to be central in many ways.  In particular it tends to become the centre of cultural and social traditions.

Because eating is, when possible, a daily occurrence or multiple daily occurrences, it has a tendency to become a central point of social interactions.  A couple goes for a meal for a date.  A family gets together for a family meal.  A church has a potluck.  Certain snacks are enjoyed when people get together to watch sports.  Certain foods become mainstays at sporting events.  Students gather for food at lunchtime.  Neighbours are invited over for meals.  Food is served at wedding receptions or after funeral and memorial services.  Food is served at baby shows or bridal showers.  Food is integral to many, likely most, social and cultural gatherings.

With the continuous centrality of food, cultural traditions grow.  This is why we have ethnic foods.  Only certain foods are available, or were before the global economy reached its height, in a given area.  The presence or absence of types of animals or plants or herbs set certain parameters on food.  Within these, people shared, and still do.  If I make a meal and you come over and like it, you might ask me how I made it, or go home and experiment to figure it out.  You might invite another friend or neighbour over, and they might do the same.  Recipes, techniques, ideas, and types of food grow, become more common, if enough people like them.

And this is where it would stop, if communities were isolated.  But tea was brought back from Asia to Europe.  Potatoes were brought back from Central America to Europe.  And so on.  When goods are exchanged between villages, cities, regions, continents, ideas go with them.  And these are all spread by people.  Where there are people, there is food.  So we find Chinese food restaurants next to Irish pubs next to Indian restaurants next to Mexican restaurants, all over the world.

Immigrants, of course, are part of this.  When people move, they bring their traditions with them.  The techniques and types of food are transplanted with the people.  But some things aren't available, so food changes.  People adapt them to where they are.  Or they incorporate things from those around them into the foods the know.  Foods change, both with time and with distance, as people interact, and setting changes.

Because of this, foods that were once characteristic of one place are found in other contexts.

Also very interesting are food parallels between cultures.  Some ideas in cooking are so universal that they develop independently in parallel circumstances.  Some of these are more obvious than others.

Take for example stir fry in South East Asia.  Compare this to fajitas, originating on the Chapparosa Ranch near Del Rio, Texas.  Originally thinly sliced skirt steak marinated and grilled, often more recently grilled with vegetables in a way that is not that different from stir fry if you only look at the basics of each, even though there is no evidence of any influence from the older stir fry to the newer fajitas.

Or the flat breads of Eastern Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, Middle East, Turkey, and Europe, which developed over many centuries, possibly in independence for other parts of these regions.  The corn tortilla, coming not from European flat breads but from pre-European native corn flat breads.  Or the similar but somewhat different flat breads of some northern North American native peoples, like the fly bread of the Arapaho and Cheyenne, or the forms of bannock found among First Nation tribes in Canada.  While European influence on these is debated, the form is somewhat different from its Scottish counterpart from which the name comes.  Flat breads of all types are basically doughs made fro flour with water or oil or animal fat, with no yeast or other leavening agent added.  Non-rising bread.

Or the gyoza of Japan and similar dumplings throughout South East Asia.  These are dough forming a pocket around some sort of filling.  A filled pasta, basically.  Similar in concept are the filled pastas of Italy, including ravioli and tortelloni.  But one Italian one more similar in form is the agnolotti of the Piedmont region, which, like the Asian dumplings, is made from circular dough pinched along the curve around a meat or vegetable filling to make semicircular filled pasta.  These aren't the only pasta, or dumplings, with this form.

Homemade Pierogi
Throughout Eastern Europe a similar food is found, called pierogi in Poland and varenyky in Ukraine, with the Western Ukraine regions often using the spelling pyrohy for the Polish name instead of or in addition to varenyky.  These also are a round dough pinched around a filling.  As the peoples of these regions spread, they brought their food with them.  In particular, Ukrainian immigrants brought these to Canada, where they have grown into a much wider use than just the immigrants, especially in the Western Providences.  Canadian Ukrainians favour the name pierogi, and this is the most common name used in Canada.

On Christmas Day, I had the pleasure of being taught to make these by my amazing fiancée, and made them with her.  I then made them by myself on New Years Eve.  They are my new favourite food to make and to eat.

Essentially, they are cheese mashed potatoes wrapped in a circular pasta like I described above, boiled, then fried with onions in butter, the way she taught me.  They are then dipped in sour cream flavoured with some salt and pepper.  I love how simple them are, and how the flavours come together.  Truly an amazing food.


The first taste,
Simple beyond words,
Onions and butter,
Potatoes and cheese,
The pasta amazing,
Bringing together,
Onions and butter outside,
Potatoes and butter inside,
Coming together,
The hot steamy filling,
So perfect,
The potato balancing the cheese,
The cheese balancing the potato,
The secret,
Hidden within,
Hidden in the pasta,
Like a treasure,
Like a secret,
Like a universe of taste,
Almost too hot,
Just right,
Steaming as you bite it open,
The pasta,
Crisp on the outside,
Soft on the inside,
Perfection in taste,
Perfection in textures,
The imperfections in shape,
The perfect imperfections,
The outside,
Rich with butter,
Rich with onions,
Fried to crispy goodness,
So amazing,
So good,
The sour cream,
The perfect accent,
Seasoned with just the right amount of salt,
Seasoned with just the right amount of pepper,
The colours,
The white of sour cream,
Speckled in black pepper,
The white and brown,
Of onions fried to perfection,
The pasta white and golden,
Matching the risng smells,
So delightful,
So perfect,
Like no other smell,
Bringing to mind,
So many things,
Large families and laughter,
People talking and laughing,
Homes and hearths,
Kitchens and gatherings,
All things perfect,
In a house filled,
The smells and tastes,
The delight in such a simple food,
So complex,
So rich,
Real pierogi.

~Pierogi, Real Pierogi by Bethany Davis, January 2, 2016

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Magic of Eggs

Fried Egg Sandwich before closing it.
This one I left out the salt, pepper,
and tarragon.
Eggs are very interesting things.  They are literally the stuff of life.  From human eggs to chicken eggs to ant and bee eggs, it's from eggs that life of many creatures in the animal kingdom spring.  Eggs are very involved in cultural images, especially those relating to spring and fertility, from coloured Easter Eggs to the eggs present in many ancient and antiquitous fertility rites in the spring as planting begins.  They are present in other contexts, from egg sacrifices in Hawaii to their use in Feri Kala rites.  And let us not forget that eggs are synonymous with breakfast for many of us.

Eggs have so many uses, they are a most in many kitchens.  Think of all the things that require them.  Many breads and pastries require eggs.  Chinese fried rice includes egg, as does egg drop soup.  Mayonnaise can't be made without eggs and still be mayonnaise.  Many cookies and frostings require eggs.  In Mexican cooking, you find hueves rancheros.  Stroganoff uses egg noodles and some wheat based pastas include egg in their ingredients.  Many casseroles use egg.  We find eggs in all parts of the menu from salads and soup, to appetizers, to main courses, to deserts.

List all the ways to prepare eggs themselves.  Fried, poached, boiled, scrambled, basted, shirred.  And all the ways to do each of those?  Fried eggs can be over easy, over hard, sunny side up, and many others.  Boiled eggs range in degrees between soft and hard.  Omelets are very similar to scrambled eggs in how they are made, but are smoothed out instead of made to bunch up.  And what do you add to the eggs when cooking them?  Salt?  Black pepper?  White pepper?  Cayenne pepper?  Parsley?  Tarragon?  Celantro?  Sage?  Butter?  Olive oil?  Garlic?  Onions?  Peppers?  Tomatoes?  Bacon?  Sausage?  Ham?  Steak?  Mushrooms?  Paprika?  Chili powder?  Flour?  Sugar?  Milk?  The possibilities are endless.  And what about sauces over the top when you're done?  A cream sauce?  Hollandaise sauce?  Salsa?  Tabasco sauce?  Gravy?  Ketchup?  Mustard sauce?  Red wine sauce?  Garlic sauce?  Ranchero sauce?  Soy sauce?

I have some favourites when it comes to eggs.  I remember as a kid going to a restaurant each morning for breakfast when we first moved to Oregon.  We were staying in a hotel until we could find somewhere to live, and the restaurant was right across the street.  I ordered a breakfast that included eggs and the waitress asked me how I wanted them cooked.  I said hard boiled.  Now, hard boiled isn't a way eggs are made at restaurants.  They cook them on the grill, so boiling isn't really an option unless they are prepared for it.  She felt bad telling me no, but the next morning she kept an egg when they made them for their salad bar and I got a hard boiled egg each morning.  She delighted in doing that for me.  And I was all smiles and joy.

At home some Sunday mornings, my mom would make soft boiled eggs.  She'd boil them and shell them and put them on our plates, and we'd add butter and salt and pepper and we'd break up saltine crackers and mix them in.  It was one of my favourite breakfasts.  My mom cooked hers separate, because we had the yolk mostly hard but she liked hers runny, so she pulled hers out first and just added butter and salt, no crackers or pepper.

Creamed Eggs on Toast
I loved my eggs sunny side up when they were fried as a kid.  Well, loved them when my mom made them.  I loved the colour, the bright yellow contrasted with the pure white.  I was a very sensual child and anything that pleased my senses made things that much better.  I also liked how thin the membrane was over the yolk.  I'd take a piece of toast and break the yolk with it and dab it up, then each the white and bottom of the yolk with a fork.  I loved that liquid yolk on toast.  But restaurants were different.  When they cooked sunny side up, without fail, the white would still be liquidy on top, and nasty.  So I usually order over easy in restaurants, not what I wanted of course, the membrane was too tough and the yolk was often too solid, but better than liquid white.  When I got to college, they had in the school cafeteria a station where a cook made eggs to your liking during breakfast time.  I got over easy, and often talked to him while he made it.  One time I mentioned that I liked sunny side up but people always had liquid white so I don't order it.  He told me the secret is a bit of water and a lid.  He made sunny side up for me each morning after that.  What he did was crack it and fry it normal until the bottom was close, the spritz it with a bit of water and put a frying pan lid over it on the grill for a bit.  It came out perfect.

My sister always loved scrambled eggs.  I loved hers, which turned out just the right texture and turned out white for some reason even though she included the yolk.  But more scrambled eggs have a texture that reminds me of uncooked egg white for some reason, so I typically avoid them.  Same issue with omelettes.  I love the tastes, but most omelettes are too runny for my liking.  But when I make my own on rare occasions, I can get the texture right.

When I was first on my own and was in an apartment with a stove, I started making myself fried egg sandwiches.  I had had them a few times as a kid, but seldom.  I had no idea how to make them, so I just fudged it.  And succeeded.  They aren't hard to make.  Fry an egg, same way as over easy, but break the yolk at the beginning.  I fry it in olive oil because I love olive oil.  I fry it on one side, flip it over, sprinkle it with salt and pepper, and sometimes tarragon, flip it over again, more salt, pepper, tarragon, flip it again.  I don't toast the bread because I like it soft.  Take two slices, spread mayonnaise on each, toss the fried egg onto out side, flip the other side over, and eat.  Takes less than five minutes to make, and I can eat it moving around the house if I want.  Fast, cheap, easy, delicious, and simple breakfast.

When I was older, I decided to make banana bread.  I'm bad at following recipes, and baking is a bit hard without one, so I looked at ten or fifteen recipes online and determined I could make it with five simple steps: put everything into a bowl, mix it up, pour it into pans, cook, remove from pans.  Simple.  I go the proportions down in an easy math formula my brain could handle and I could easily reduce or increase.  For every two bananas, four cups of flour, two eggs, two teaspoons of baking soda, a half teaspoons of salt, a half cup of sugar, one stick of butter.  Worked great and turned out delicious.  I made it every Thursday evening for a while, then ate it and shared it in between.  I typically made three small loafs and two pans of muffins.  And two bananas are two cups, so if you use another wet fruit or vegetable, you can use the same proportions.  I made strawberry bread one week, apricot bread another, and a mixed berry bread one week.  Of course, this is at 7220 feet above sea level.  It might not work the same lower.

One meal my mom made once in a while growing up was creamed eggs on toast.  I loved it, but never thought of it when I was thinking of things to make.  When I thought about it, I thought it would be difficult, so never looked it up.  I was getting eggs for fried egg sandwiches last week and it crossed my mind, so I looked up a recipe on my phone.  It was very simple and was all things I was going to buy anyway, so I decided to give it a shot.  First step, soft boil the eggs.  You put them in a sauce pan, cover them with water, raise it to a boil, immediately take it off the burner and heat, cover it, and let it sit in the hot water for ten minutes (at my elevation anyway).  Once it's sat for ten minutes, drain the water, run them under cold water to cool them and/or let them sit to cool.  I found one egg per slice of toast to be perfect.  Two eggs and two pieces of toast is the right size breakfast for me for creamed eggs on toast.  After the eggs arfe cool, peel them, making sure you get all the shell, then cut them up with a shark kitchen knife.  You want small pieces.  They will be kind of crumbly in a moist type of way.  Probably about quarter inch pieces is good.  Now melt butter in the sauce pan.  The recipe called for one teaspoon per egg, but I used on tablespoon for two eggs, which is three teaspoons.  I melt it at 4 on my stove settings.  High is 10.  Once it's melted, add two teaspoons of flour (one teaspoon per egg) in a mound in the middle, then pour 2/3 cups of milk (1/3 cup per egg) over it.  I use whole milk.  I then mix it all together into a sauce with a wooden spoon, raise the temperature to the 7 setting, and wait for it to reach a boil, stirring it a lot.  I then dump the eggs in, sprinkle in probably three shakes of a salt shaker and sprinkle in pepper enough to look the way I think it should look.  I stir it all, let it cook for a minute or two, then pull it off the burner onto another one, and set that on low to keep it warm.  I then toast two pieces (or however many) of wheat bread on a cookie sheet in the oven, with the oven on high broil.  Once it's fairly dark brown, I pull it out and pour the creamed eggs over them, and eat.  Very yummy.

There are no ends to the ways to cook and prepare eggs, and they truly are magical.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Peppermint Bark

Peppermint Bark
By Bethany Davis

A square, molded piece,
Perfect in dimensions,
Perfect in form.

White perfect chocolate,
Red specks of candy,
Pretty contrast.

A taste of chocolate,
A nibble, a bite,
Joy realized.

Soft creamy chocolate,
Crunchy candy bits,
Perfect Contrast.

Nibble by Nibble,
Bit by bit,
So fine.

The flavour remaining,
White chocolate,
Laced with mint.

This Fake Banana

This Fake Banana
By Bethany Davis

Banana taffy,
Hard and smooth,
Like a banana cream pie,
But not as rich.

Banana milk,
So playful smooth,
Like liquid laughter,
Like dancing mirth.

The fruit's so different,
Not rich or smooth,
A different taste,
A different love.

This fake banana,
Makes me spin,
Dancing like a child,
So young, so free.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Imitation Strawberry

Imitation Strawberry
By Bethany Davis
there’s something
about the taste
the feel
the experience
of imitation strawberries
strawberry Laffy Taffy
strawberry milk
strawberry pokey
light pink
like the cream
left over
after eating fresh strawberries
drenched in cream
and covering with sugar
that off white
tasting slightly of strawberries
but not really
innocent yet naughty
like your first discovery
of your sexuality
alone in your room
on a lazy afternoon

Monday, June 20, 2011

Scallops and Garlic

Sometimes it's fun to cook something a little different.  Living in Wyoming, I don't eat much sea food.  There's just not that much here that's fresh enough to be good.  I seldom even try to make any at home.  Buy fresh sea food in the grocery store?  Sure.

When I lived in Oregon, we were two hours from the coast.  Eating sea food on the coast was amazing, but even grocery store sea food was fresh and delicious.  I love fresh cod.  But moving to Wyoming, that changed.  Cod is horrible here.  Fresh water fish, caught in the lakes and streams, that is good.  Grocery store fish, not so much.

But tonight, I ignored all that.  A friend online cooked scallops and garlic tonight and posted a link to the recipe.  It sounded really good, so I decided to take my chances.
Scallops and Garlic
Leaving work at 7:15 was a mistake.  I went to the grocery store. Safeway, but the fish part of the meat department was closed.  All the fish and sea food had already been put away and the lady running it had already gone home.  I figured I'd try Walmart, since their departments stay open longer, some even 24 hours. I bought the rest of what I would need and headed across town.

Walmart's deli and meat departments were both open, but I guess neither sells fish or sea food of any kind.  All they have is a cabinet of frozen fish and sea food.  Well, I really wanted to try the scallops, so I went with it and bought frozen scallops and headed home.

Frozen scallops under
cold water.
Waiting for the scallops to thaw wasn't an option, but luckily, the package had directions on how to fast thaw them.  You put them in a strainer and run cold water over them.  I had my doubts about cold water thawing anything, but I followed the directions.  I washed a load of dishes to clear out the sink and put the scallops under cold water.  The water seemed frozen to my hands.  Amazingly, by the time the water for the noodles was boiling, they were thawed.

It was then that I realized I had forgot to buy garlic.  Scallops and garlic without garlic?  Yeah, right.  That won't work.  I scrambled around the kitchen digging, and found three cloves that were good.  Relief!

Noodles in water.
Oil in pan.
Flour in bowl.
I put the noodles in pot with the boiling water (adding olive oil to the water as I always do, for taste and to limit sticking), put the olive oil in the pan, and put the flour in the bowl and I was ready to begin.  From the recipe, I would have guessed rolling the scallops in flour would have taken a minute at the most.  The author must know something I don't, because it took between five and ten.  Are you supposed to roll each individual scallop by itself?  I don't know, but that's what I did.

Floured scallops.
Scallops sizzling.
When they were ready, I added the scallops to the pan.  Mmmmm, that was a nice smell.  They sizzled nicely, and the flour seemed to vanish.  I set the timer for four minutes and started working on the garlic.  Two cloves didn't seem much, so I minced all three.  The scallops had been cooking for three minutes when I added them.  The smell got even better.  By the time I had the parsley in, it had been five minutes.  Was I supposed to remove it from the heat after three to four minutes, then add the parsley?  Was I supposed to add the parsley immediately after the garlic at two minutes?  Was I supposed to add it right before the time was up, then take it off the heat?  I don't know. Recipes always say things in ways I can't quite get.  Hence why I usually just wing it and don't use a recipe.  What I did was turn off the heat but leave it on the burner while I added the parsley.  Tearing it off took a bit.

Scallops ready to eat.
And with that it was ready to serve.

Let's see, the recipe said it would take about four minutes to prepare, actually cooking for three to four.

  • 10 minutes from the scallops to thaw and the water to boil.
  • 5 minutes to roll the scallops in flour.
  • 5 minutes to actually cook.
Yep, about four minutes.

And served.
It really did taste good, with only a few complaints.  One, not enough garlic.  I added some garlic powder to it at the table, which helped a little, but it needed more.  I think two bulbs instead of two cloves would be about right.  Two, too starchy.  I probably got too much flour on them, not knowing what I was doing, and I think I cooked the noodles a little long, which can make them more starchy.  The lemon juice was very good with it.  And I think five minutes was good for the scallops.  They seemed about right.  Maybe the recipe was written for low, close to sea level cooking (the website was Southern Food after all), rather than high, 7220 feet above sea level.

Over all, it was a success, despite not having fresh scallops and all the issues with me trying to follow a recipe.  It was worth the time and effort.


Monday, May 30, 2011

Resolving the Musical Progression

Early English woodcut
depicting a feast.
Image from Country verses City.
When I think of the perfect meal, I think of all the descriptions of eating at Valabar's in the Vlad Taltos books by Steven Brust, especially the detailed account in Dzur.  In that specific book, each chapter begins with an account of Vlad's meal at the restaurant.  The descriptions are truly beautiful and amazing.  Just reading it, by the time I finished, I felt very full, stuffed in fact, and very satisfied.  I've never read a better description of food or eating, or one that made my mouth water the way that description did.  The descriptions in the earlier books had whetted my appatite, but this one was a feast, both for my mind and my taste buds.  It was like being there, enjoying it with him.  And I loved how the details of the meal related to what happened in each chapter.

"Babette's Feast" Served up
by Derry McMahon.
Image from Seanchai Library blog.
I usually prefer meals that are just one course with no sides, things that are a meal in and of themselves.  This is the type thing I grew up on.  We had tacos.  We had spaghetti, maybe with garlic bread, maybe not.  We had lasagna.  We had enchiladas.  We had soup, by itself.  We had salad, by itself.  We had stuffed peppers.  The only time I remember having sides was for picnics or for Thanks Giving, and I never remember having multiple courses.

The Wedding Feast.
Image from Craig Finnestad blog.
There is an art to making one dish that's complete in itself.  There's a different art to choosing the right sides to go with a main course.  But the art of making a meal that works that's multiple courses is a whole different world.  What order do you serve them?  What drinks with each?  Anything between courses?  In a properly crafted multiple course meal, each piece accents the rest.  Each course either builds towards a climax, is the climax, or a gentle coming down, accenting the climax, the coda that resolves the musical progression of the feast.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

"Espresso is to Italy, what champagne is to France."

He was my cream, and I was his coffee -
And when you poured us together, it was something.
~Josephine Baker

Gourmet coffee beans.
Image from Scott's Coffee House.
There was a time in Europe where the word coffee had never been spoken.  Coffee came to Europe from the Islamic world in the 16th century.  The legend is that it originally came from Ethiopia, but it is known that it was first roasted in Arabia in the 15th century.  The word came with the bean.

It's hard to imagine a world without coffee now in the present.  There are coffee shops everywhere, and people make coffee in their own kitchens.  Coffee has become an integral part of our culture.

I used to think I hated coffee, back when I was a girl.  But my sister, who was as addicted to it as my dad, talked me into trying a sip of hers, "blonde and sweet".  With the cream and sugar in it, I liked it.  The problem wasn't a dislike of the taste of coffee, but with the taste being too strong.  I started drinking it that way.  Before long, I liked it black right away, though I've never drank coffee often.

Beatniks in Gaslight Coffee House,
NYC, 1959.  Image from
Old New York Tumblr blog.
Legend has it that the first coffee house was opened in about 962 in Constantinople.  Over time, they were found throughout the Middle East and Ottoman Empire.  Coffee houses came to Europe with coffee and soon were found across the continent.  They came to the United States with the Italian immigrants, but soon became popular outside these communities.  In the 1950s, they became a place where folk singers frequently sang, and became popular with beatniks.

In America, a definite culture has grown up around coffee houses.  They are a place where ideas are born and discussed (as was the case in Europe and the Middle East as well).  They are a place where folk and indie music is played live.  They are a place where poetry is spoken, and the main home of poetry slams.  They are casual, relaxing, and non-threatening, a neutral place to meet.  And not everyone drinks just coffee at coffee houses.  I usually have a steamer, which is basically steamed milk with flavoured syrup.  Sometimes I have Italian cream sodas.  A friend of mine always has hot tea.  I've even had a beer at Cold Creek, one of the local coffee shops.  Coffee shops often offer pastries, and sometimes even offer full meals.  They are more about the culture of coffee than the drinking of coffee now a days, though drinking coffee is no less popular.

First Starbucks coffee shop
in Seattle's Pike's Place Market.
Image from Spicer and Bank blog.
Traditionally, coffee houses have been a local affair, locally owned, locally ran.  There were no chains, at least nation wide chains.  Starbucks changed all that, bringing franchising to the coffee house "industry".  Other chains have followed in their footsteps, but Starbucks really changed things.

Starbucks started as a local coffee house in the 1970s in Seattle, Washington.  The name comes from the first mate in Melville's famous book, Moby Dick.  In the 1980s, a new director, inspired by the espresso bars in Milan, Italy, wanted to transform Starbucks to a different style of coffee house.  The owners rejected his ideas, so he started his own chain.  This new vision quickly took off and he ended up buying the original Starbucks chain and transforming it into his vision.  In the 1990's and most of the 2000s, Starbucks expanded across the country and over seas at a tremendous rate of one per work day.  Though growth has slowed down, Starbucks is very popular.

Starbucks does coffee its own way, though.  If you go to any coffee shop that does coffee the Italian way and order a Macchiato and are used to Starbucks, you will be very surprised with what you get.  And many coffee shops won't make a frappicino.  You could say Starbucks is kind of the McDonald's to your local burger joint.

Yesterday, I was talking to someone that works for the University of Wyoming.  They just expanded the Business College building and the original plan was to open a coffee shop in it.  The University wouldn't let them, though, because they thought it was too close to the one in Coe Library and they would put each other out of business.  I laughed and said they must never have been to Seattle, then.  The joke is that Starbucks put a Starbucks in the bathroom of another Starbucks.

Mocho coconut frappicino
from yesterday.
Later that day, we happened to go to Starbucks.  The Starbucks here aren't really coffee houses.  For that, you have to go to Cold Creek or the Grounds.  Hasting's has a coffee shop that's pretty close called the Hard Back Cafe.  There are a few drive up coffee shops in parking lots as well.  There are two Starbucks, one in Safeway and one in Albertson's.  The one in Safeway has a couple tables in the corner, but the one in Albertson's doesn't have any.  But we were just picking up frappicinos (which aren't served at any of the other shops, though the Hard Back has blended drinks that are similar), so we didn't need tables.

Normally I get a caramel frappicino, but they were advertising a new flavour, a mocha coconut frappicino, so I decided to try it.  It was very different, but very good.  I'd recommend it.


*Subject is a quote by Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Of moons, tides, and sushi

Image from A Charmed Life blog
Why Celeste?  A friend called me it the day I was starting this blog and it spoke to my soul.  In Spanish, it means Celestial, which is heavenly, the visible or invisible heavens, the stars.  I did some searching and found that it is a form of the name Selena, the Greek primordial goddess of the moon, before Artemis took over that role.  Selena is Luna to the Romans, who was replaced by Diana, Artemis' equivalent.  Luna's name is where we get lunar, of the moon.

But what does the moon have to do with food?  Many things.  I think anything can be related to food if you dig deep enough.  I'll focus on one.  The moon controls the tides.  And tides control when fisherman can go out to fish, and where the fish will be.  Fish has long been a large source of food for coastal areas, and those along rivers and lakes.  Many people in the world eat fish.  In fact, fish is the only meat traditionally allowed to be eaten on Friday (and originally Wednesday) was fish.  This was because meat was a luxury item for most people and was expensive, while anyone could raise vegetables or fish for fish.  The fasts on Wednesday and Friday abstained from most meat and ate vegetables and fish because you were controlling your body, not giving it luxury items.

It's the opposite here in Wyoming.  Beef is plentiful, being a ranching state, but sea food is expensive because it has to be shipped in from the coast.  There are local fish, but they aren't real big at this high elevation and with the small sizes of the lakes, rivers, and streams.  A creek in Western Oregon is wider and deeper than a river in most of Wyoming.  Also, the type of fish that are native aren't the type of fish served in most restaurants.

You have to be careful with sea food in Wyoming.  Because of how far it has to travel, sea food can be kind of nasty tasting at times.  Some restaurants are good, some very bad.  You just have to learn which is which.

Caterpillar roll 
One way I like sea food is as sushi.  It's expensive, so I don't have it often.  Most Americans think sushi means raw fish, but this isn't the case.  It is the rice, made a specific way, that makes it sushi.  There are many types of sushi, but without the rice it isn't sushi.  Raw fish by its self is sashimi, not sushi.  I've made sushi at home.  The rice, i do pretty good with, but when I make rolls and such, they aren't the works of art they are in restaurants.