Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Art Crossroads at Galeria

Join me for the next "Crucero" at Galeria de la Raza, a bi-monthly art bazaar. I'll be selling some of my miniature shrine kits. Other local artists and designers will showcase lots of gifts, paper goods, prints, original art and fashion. Don't miss it!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Faux flowering cacti

When I was a kid I used to buy mini cacti from a woman at the San Angel market, in Mexico City. It took me a while to figure out why every single cactus I bought from her died after a few days. Hers were not grafted, potted living things. She took bits and pieces of cactus and other plants and held them together with toothpicks. At the time I was outraged when I discovered this, but now I've come to appreciate her creativity and her whimsical "Frankenstein" creations. This humble Mexican woman was not a gardener, she was an "eco sculptor" and inspired this flower arrangement! I think it would make a cool center piece for a Mexican themed party. To make something similar you'll need the following materials:
  • Clay pots
  • One or two "nopal" paddles per clay pot
  • A bouquet of small seasonal flowers
  • Acrylic paint
  • Bamboo skewers
  • Wooden toothpicks
  • Plasticine or modeling clay
  • Decorative gravel or pebbles
Start by decorating the pots with acrylic paint. Place a square of modeling clay inside the pot and stick a skewer in it. Fill the rest of the pot with decorative gravel to give it weight. Using gloves, stick the nopales in the skewers so they stand upright. Play around with your arrangement's composition; you can cut the paddle in half, lean it to the side or even place two paddles in the same pot.

The final step is to stick the flowers to the top of the cactus using the toothpicks. Do it just before your party, since the flowers won't last long in that state. Note: I recommend not using real potted cacti for this project. Instead use "nopales", cultivated edible cactus sold in Mexican markets. If you have any leftovers you can always make a salad with them!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Fruit as fashion

Nicole Dextras creates mazing eco-art installations. Take a look at some of her flower flocks. These gowns may not be "ready to wear" but you can compost them after wearing! The one pictured above is made out of crab apples and greens. Nicole's work is very diverse. Check out her site for information about her photos, books and more ephemeral art.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Chayotes Rellenos

Stuffed chayote squash
Chayotes are fruits, but in Mexico they are eaten mostly as vegetables. They have a delicate squash flavor and are incredibly versatile: you can boil them, steam them, use in stews and as a stir fry. In this lacto-ovo vegetarian recipe they are stuffed with queso fresco, in the same manner as another popular Mexican recipe: Chiles rellenos.

My mother is a lawyer, when I was growing up she rarely cooked. I think this recipe is one she actually knew how to make. I'm posting it today in honor of her birthday! You'll need the following ingredients:

  • 2 large chayotes
  • 2 eggs whites, beaten to stiff peaks, plus
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 6 slices of queso fresco
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • chopped parsley or
  • tomato sauce (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Peel the chayotes and boil them in plenty of salted water until soft (aproximately 10 minutes). Let them cool. Remove any remaining fibers and cut into thick slices. Make "sandwiches" with the chayote slices and the queso fresco. Secure with a toothpick.

Combine the beaten egg whites and the yolks and season with salt and pepper. Dust the chayotes with the flour and dip in the egg batter. Using a non-stick pan, fry the stuffed chayotes on both sides in a little of olive oil. Add more oil if necessary. Drain the chayotes in paper towels and remove the toothpicks. Serve hot, sprinkled with chopped parsley or topped with tomato sauce.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Calabacitas con elote

Zucchini and corn stew
This zucchini stew is generally topped with queso fresco and Mexican sour cream. This is a vegan version. The ingrediets are almost the same for a salad that is also popular in central Mexico, the only difference is that the cooked tomatoes and the obvious absence of a vinaigrette. You'll need the following ingredients:

  • 5 small zucchini, washed and cut in quarters
  • half an onion, chopped
  • clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 large tomato, or two small ones (diced)
  • 2 ears of corn
  • 1 spring of epazote
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Usign a sharp knife, slowly slice the kernels off the corn. Using your knife scrape the milk from the ear of corn and set aside. In a large sauce pan with a lid, saute the onion and garlic until they become stranslucent. Add the zucchini and pan fry for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Make sure the onion and the garlic don't start browning. Lower the heat and add the diced tomatoes, corn and corn scrapings. When the tomatoes starts "sweating" and releasing their juice add sal, pepper and the epazote and cover. Add a little bit of water if necessary. Simmer covered for 10 minutes until the zucchini is tender. Serve with warm tortillas. For more pictures of this dish visit my flick account

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sopa de bolita de chipilin

Chipilin dumpling soup
My grandmother used to make this delicious soup with soft gnocchi-like "bolitas" flavored with chipilin. She would cook the "bolitas" in black bean soup, here I'm making them in a clear vegetable broth. This recipe comes from Tapachula, in the southern region of Chiapas. This dish is not spicy, yet chipilin has a very strong distinct flavor. It is widely available in Chiapas and Central America but hard to find here in the US. I recently discovered frozen chipilin in a market that carries products from Guatemala. Frozen products are an alternative for creating Central American dishes...although I would certainly prefer eating them fresh! You'll need the following ingredients:

  • One bag of frozen chipilin
  • One cup of instant masa harina (corn flour used to make tortillas and tamales)
  • A cup of vegetables of your choice
  • Quarter of an onion
  • One clove of garlic
  • One tablespoon of olive oil
  • Sea salt or kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
Start by creating your soup base - boil your clean vegetables in water until they are tender. The chipilin is very flavorful, so I recommend not using something too strong that will compete with the flavor of the chipilin. Here I'm just using carrots, onion, garic, celery and chayote. I didn't even bother to chop the vegetables, I just boiled them for about ten minutes until they were tender. Remove the vegetables and save them for later.

Soak half a bag of the frozen chipilin it in a large bowl of water. The chipilin is very strong so you don't need a lot. After a few minutes start separating the thawed leaves and move to a different container, leaving grit, dirt and the tough dry grass-like stems behind. You should end up with just the clean tender green leaves, discard everything else.

Create the dumplings by combining half a cup of the warm broth and one cup of masa harina. Mix until the flour becomes crumbly, add a little bit of olive oil and start kneading by hand. Incorporate the thawed chipilin leaves, adding more liquid as necessary.With wet hands form several bite size balls (about the size of a ping-pong ball) and set aside.

Bring your broth to a soft rolling boil. Add your "bolitas" one by one, until all of them are completely covered in broth. Cook them gently until they start floating (about 8 to 10 minutes). Chop the cooked vegetables and add them back to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Paper cupcake - high fiber, no carbs!

I created this cupcake out of recycled cardboard, crepe paper and cornstarch. It is hollow so a small gift can be hidden inside. I added the ribbon so it can hang from a doorknob or some place else. What do you think, is it good enough to eat? I think this cupcake could be a cool early spring gift!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Totonacan Fragrant Art

My grandfather was from Veracruz, Mexico. I remember that while traveling there many years ago I saw several curious little crafts created by local artesans. Straw-like figurines shaped like crosses, hearts, animals and flowers were actually created with woven vanilla beans! The most amazing one I remember was shaped like a very realistic scorpion with many slender legs. Here's some simple examples of this tradition, from the blog vida surrealista. This blog narrates (in Spanish) more about the culture of Veracruz.

Terms like "French Vanilla" may lead folks to believe that this popular spice originated in Europe. Vanilla beans were first cultivated by the native habitants of Veracruz, the Totonacans. The name "Vanilla" is actually a derivative of the Spanish word "Vaina" or sheath, yet the original name was "Caxixanath", or hidden flower. According to this legend, the blood of a Totonacan princess originated the delicate orchid flower that produces vanilla.

The image above features fresh vanilla beans and a figurine with a rosary made out of woven vanilla beans. It comes from lidiosa's photo stream on flickr (gracias lidiosa). Maybe this is evidence of syncretism, a clue that the little vanilla sculptures were once used as ritual objects by the Totonacans? Whatever the reason, I just remember that the smell of these little figurines was wonderful! I really hope that this tradition doesn't disappear in modern times.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Vinagre de Chile

Chili vinegar
I made this chile infused vinegar with ripe red Thai chiles. In Mexico they are known as "Chile mira pa' arriba" (upward gazer) because they grow up upright. Use it on salads, dressings, soups or anywhere you would use hot sauce. Be careful! A little bit goes a long way. You'll need the following ingredients:
  • One cup of fresh red chiles
  • One cup of white vinegar
  • One tablespoon of sea salt, or Kosher salt
  • One garlic, peeled and sliced
  • Quarter of an onion
Wash and dry the chiles and remove the stems. Be very careful, the chiles are very spicy. Make sure you wash your hands carefully after you handle them. In a clean jar marinate all the ingredients.

Store in the refrigerator for up to a week until the vinegar becomes infused with the chiles and all the other seasonings. After one week, process all the ingredients in a blender. Most of the spicyness resides in the seeds, so in order to have a milder vinegar it needs to be strained. Pour the remaining vinegar in a cruet and enjoy! Store in the refrigerator, it will keep for several days.