Friday, September 23, 2016

The Mexican Cook Book from the 1970's , written and photographed by George and Inger Wallace is a real gem

I bought this cookbook when I was in college right when it was published in 1971.  The recipes are straight forward,  somewhat elementary.  The authors traveled throughout Mexico and put together a collection of their favorite Mexican recipes and adapted them for the American kitchen.  Things have changed drastically in what ingredients one can find now verses back then.  But the thing I like best about this small cookbook is the photography.
First let me tell you a little about the George Wallace...  Born in San Francisco, he excelled in two completely different fields, speed skating and photography.  
He was the only American athlete to compete independently in the 1940 World Games (later known at the Olympics).  He won top medals in Latvia, competing in minus 40 degrees Celsius weather!
In 1939 he was invited by the Oslo Skating Club to train on their outdoor rink and that is where he met his future wife, Inger Dalhberg.  Fleeing Norway after the German occupation, they were fortunate to get the last available passage on the U.S. Manhattan.
Back in the states, he worked for his family's company, US Pipe Mfg..  
He was passionate about photography since the age of 12.  In the late 1940's, he was a full time student on a scholarship for two years under Ansel Adams, Minor White and Edward Weston.   He later became a professor of photography and created a simple hand calculator   to determine the best DOF, depth of field.  He had a knack for shooting from the hip which was useful when shooting in Mexico were the people were standoffish of having their photo taken for they believed the photograph would steal their spirit.  He would engage his subjects in friendly conversation which led to mutual respect which show in the images below.  You can see this in his photos, for many of his subjects have a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eyes. 
He shot with minimal equipment using natural light and sometimes a mini-tripod.
He invented the ExpoDisc.  This disc, like a lens, sets the white balance on the camera enabling the photographer to capture accurate color when clicking the shutter.  Good color and exposure saved the photographer tremendous time from having to make adjustments on the camera's settings and less time in the dark room.  
Most of his photographic archives were destroyed by a fire in 1989, but negatives and slides from Mexico and Norway were spared.
Enjoy some of the photographs below that I scanned from the cookbook along with the copy that accompanied the photo.
"This is one of the three large bands of musicians in Teotitlan del Valle, a Zapotec village in the state of Oaxaca.  These bands provide all the music for the local religious festivals and pageants."   Teotitlan del Valle is one of the villages that I take my group to and is renown for it weaving of rebozas and rugs.
"Their work in the fields caught up and the rainy season begun, mestizos from San Juan Chilateca wait for a ride to the nearby fiesta where they will earn extra money as professional musicians."
"Many men of nearby Santa Catarina Minas share work provided by stills hidden in remote barrancas of this desolate region.  From these stills comes the best mescal in all Mexico."
"Largest of all Indian markets of Mexico, the Oaxaca market is within a day's travel of every conceivable combination of soil, climate and topography, and therefore features an exotic and great variety of fruits and vegetables throughout the year."  And to this day, the market has not changed that much.
"Indians and mestizos alike converge on the large market on Saturdays.  They come from lonely huts in the hills and nearby villages to buy, sell and barter; and to enjoy the excitement of the market place."  The women today still wear their shiny black hair in a handsome braid and always wearing an apron and a reboza as they effortlessly balance their basket full of vegetables on their head. 
"These girls from San Felipe, A Zapotec village on the outskirts of Oaxaca, have just finished a part of their day's work.  Up long before dawn, they ground corn, made tortillas, ran barefoot to market with their wares loaded in baskets and sold hot, fresh tortillas to waiting customers."  I love these baskets and I buy one or two every time I am in Oaxaca. They are beautifully crafted.  Being pliable, I put one basket inside the other , pack my clothes in them and put the the baskets in my big duffle-shaped suitcase.  Back home, I use them for cloths hampers and waste baskets.
"On their way home from Mass, these women and children had been waiting in a small store for a momentary downpour to pass."  I have been there!  Some of the whiteout downpours in the state of Michoacan are unbelievable. 
"With methods as old as the Conquest itself, the women of Teotitlan de Valle spin yarn for woolen serapes for which their village is so famous."  A practice still done the in the old tradition.  And I have purchased the most beautifully woven serape that Ralph Lauren would have loved to showcase in his store.
"This vanilla bean farmer in Papantla, on the hot and humid Gulf Coast, prefers traditional Totonac dress for himself, but indulges in factory-made clothes for his children."
"This mestiza woman is one of many independent small businesswomen preparing and selling antojitos in the streets surrounding the huge Oaxaca market.   A scene very typical of today with the large clay comal used to cook the tortillas and the enamel pot probably filled with a salsa, freshly chopped nopales (cactus pads) or a mole...
"Refugio Masqueda Mercedes Chaves makes charcoal from the hardwood he gathers in the hills above Guanajuato, then hauls it down by burro to sell in the towns.  His strongly Spanish features are evidence of the harshness of the occupation that followed the Conquest of Mexico."  Don't you just love his name?  There were countless times when there would be a knock at our home in San Miguel de Allende with a man with similar looks and his burro loaded with firewood or bags of dirt for the garden.
"The timorous Tarahumaras only slip down from their primitive caves and huts to attend Mass, watch a Baptism or an occasional marriage ceremony, or seek medicine our counsel from the padre on his monthly visit.  He is the only outside they trust."  
Their way of life has not changes since the 1970's.  My next tour may involve taking the scenic train trip through the Copper Canyon where these interesting people live.  The Copper Canyon makes the Grand Canyon in Arizona look small in comparison.  

The Wallace's captured the warmth and spirit of the Mexican people and that is something I have experienced every time I have ventured out to explore some small village in the remote areas of Mexico.  Such gracious, friendly people.

The Mexican Cook Book is still available and I know you can find it on Amazon.  It's beautifully written, the recipes are easy and the photography is spectacular.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Women of Abstract Expressionism at the Denver Art Museum

Abstract Expressionism emphasis is on a large composition with loose brush strokes of color and a grand sense of scale.  The Women of Abstract Expressionism exhibition showcases over fifty paintings by twelve phenomenal artists who worked within the late 1940's and 1950's art world.  These paintings show their personal responses to life experiences.
The entrance to the exhibition is beautifully presented.  There is a striking photo of each artist along with a section of each artist's work.  Mary Abbott, Jay DeFeo, Elaine de Kooning...
Perle Fine, Helen Frankenthaler, Sonia Gechtoff, Judith Godwin,
Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner,
Joan Michell, Deborah Remington and Ethel Schwabacher.
Looking back on the artists, you see sections of their various works.
Cornucopia - 1958 - Lee Krasner
Kranser was inspired by nature in her depiction of Cornucopia.  As the wife of Jackson Pollock she once wrote, "I'm always going to be Mrs. Jackson Pollock - that's a matter of fact - (but) I painted before Pollock, during Pollock, after Pollock."
Antigone 1 - 1958 - Ethel Schwabacher
Schwabacher painted with a strong palette of colors, with emotion in which she was inspired by the Greek tragedy of Antigone.
Children of Frejus - 1959 - Sonia Gechtoff
This was Gechtoff's passionate reaction upon reading about the drowning of hundreds of children in France when a dam overflowed. 
Her work was inspired by personal and current events.  She said her process was "a combination of emotional reactions to just being alive."  Having success in the Bay area of San Francisco, she moved to New York City in the 1950's but was amazed to find that women artist did not hold the same respect and attention as men.
Untitled - 1951 - Helen Frankenthaler
I like the this piece for the bold brush strokes and vibrant colors.  There is something chaotic about this painting but organized at the same time.  Later on she created a method of stain painting, she would dilute paint to create radiant washes of color on un-primed canvases.  And then pour paint across the large canvas, many times laying on the floor to accomplish this.  She wrote, "A really good picture looks as if it's happened at once... I think very often it takes ten over-labored efforts to produce one really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it."
Western Dream - Helen Frankenthaler - 1957
This was completed 5 years after developing  her  stain painting technique. 
It truly evokes the wide-open landscape of the south-west.  I love the subtle effect she created, to me it looks like it was painted on silk.
Imrie -  Oil paint and crayon on canvas - 1953 - Mary Abbott
Living in the Hampton's, she was inspired by colors found in nature and the U.S. Virgin Islands and Haiti where she spent many winters.
Bullfight - 1959 - Elaine de Kooning
This bold statement of color, movement and energy came from her first encounter of a bullfight in Mexico.  It certainly spells Mexico in my book.
Bill at St. Mark's - Elaine de Kooning - 1956
A portrait of her famous husband, abstract expressionism painter Willem de Kooning.  Avoiding details, she captured his being and demeanor brilliantly in the above painting. 
For a brief period of time, she taught in New Mexico and that experience influenced her work from then on by the color, lighting and expansive horizons of the southwest.  I agree.  The lighting in Santa Fe, just like San Miguel de Allende in Mexico is a painters or photographers ideal place.  It is for me.
Abstraction - Elaine de Kooning - 1947
An earlier work, the bold colors are prevalent but is not as loose of a composition as her later paintings.  I really like her work aall periods of her work.
The Seasons - Lee Krasner - 1957
A completely different approach in depicting nature and the female.
Woman - Judith Godwin - 1954
A very large piece, about 20 feet in length. It's a happy painting.  Her works were inspired by nature, movement and architecture.
Stretched Yellow - Lee Krasner - 1955
Just coming off an exhibition that had not produced many sales, Krasner created a series of collages by applying large pieces of canvas from her older paintings onto the new canvases.  I like this technique and boldness of the composition.  This painting reminds me of Clifford Stills works where he has large void areas in his paintings of just raw canvas as where Krasner uses black.  She said, "This act of destroying in order to create was a form of clarification... and growth."
Hudson River Day Line - Joan Mitchell - 1955.
 She spent the last part of the 1950's living in Paris but she maintained ties to New York.  She describes her paintings as being like poems and an approach that is quite controlled.
Interior: "The Creek" - Grace Hartingan - 1957
The painting is an obscure reaction to the furniture and setting of artist and collector Alfonso Ossorio's East Hampton estate with its intense colors and bold brushstrokes.
Image of Winter - Perle Fine - 1958
When I look at Fine's painting, I feel winter.  She also was one of the few who pioneered the use of collage in her paintings to create movement and depth on the canvas.  Nature, the cosmos, music and dance were her sources of inspiration.
Untitled - Deborah Remington - 1953.
A lot of energy and vibrant colors in this painting.  Clyfford Still taught Remington at the California School of Fine Arts.

It must have been exciting times for these women at a time where is was hard to break into the art world and opportunities were very limited.   I truly loved this show, how it was displayed, especially the signage at the entry and the biographies of each artist with black and white photos of the artist, a brief history on the artist and various quotes from the artist. I choice to highlight the paintings I particularly liked. 

Denver Art Museum
The show runs through September 25, 2016. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Cochinita Pibil Tacos are so good!

 I hadn't done any extensive braising lately so Sunday night I decided to make Cochinita Pibil Tacos.  Pibil is the Mayan word for a traditional oven, more like a shallow pit in the ground with heated stones, on top of which banana leaf-wrapped meats are cooked in the Yucatan Peninsula.   
Banana leaves are a key ingredient, but so is the Achiote Paste which is made from annatto seeds.  The seeds are mixed with other seeds and spices such as garlic, cumin and Mexican oregano then made into recados (seasoning pastes).  The above can be found at any Latino/Mexican markets.  Use with caution, the intense orange-red color of the paste can stain easily.   Banana leaves can be found frozen in most Asian grocery stores.  For my Denver friends, I buy mine at the Pacific Mercantile downtown on Larimer Street.
I lined my Le Crueset pot with banana leaves allowing enough to extend beyond the pot so I could wrap the leaves up over the pork and its marinade, thus creating a nice little bundle.
After 3 1/3 hours of cooking, I set the pork shoulder on a large cutting board and shredded the meat into bite-size pieces.  Talk about tender!  My husband kept coming into the kitchen for a samples.


       1 box of Achiote Paste (such as El Yucateca)
1 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
       1 cup fresh orange juice
  1/3 cup white vinegar
    2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano
       salt, to taste
    4 lb. pork shoulder
    2 banana leaves, about 36" long
    1 medium red onion
    1 habanero pepper, thinly sliced
       cilantro, chopped
       radishes, sliced thinly 
       corn tortillas (I made my own this time)

For the Pibil:
Combine the achiote paste, 1 cup lime juice and orange juice, 1/3 cup vinegar, oregano and salt in a blender and puree until smooth.  Strain marinade through a fine-mesh sieve.  Put the marinade and pork into a large plastic bag and let rest in refrigerator for a couple of hours.   Line a 9-quart dutch oven with banana leaves. allowing the excess hang over the sides of the pot. Add the pork and its marinade.  Fold the leaves back over the pork and put the lid on.  Cook in a 350 oven until tender, about 3 to 4 hours.

For the garnish:
Thinly slice the red onion and place in a glass bowl.  Add the 1/3 cup of lime juice and massage the onions with your hand.  Season with salt.  Add the desired amount of habanero slices, remember they are extremely hot - you can always add more.  Let sit for an hour prior to serving.   

To serve:
Unwrap and place the pork on a large cutting board.    Shred into bite-size pieces and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in 1 cup of the cooking liquid from the pot.  Place desired amount of pork on each tortilla topped with the pickled onion mixture, cilantro and radishes.  A slice of avocado or two may also be added.  

Serves 8 - 10.
Since I made this just for the two of us, I have put a serving size for 2 of the pork mixture into zip-loc bags and placed in the freezer to have at a later date on tortillas or for sandwiches.

Buen Provecho!