Friday, August 31, 2018

The Harvest Baker Cookbook by Ken Haedrich

Lately I have been into baking different types sweet and savory of breads (Zucchini, Raisin and Walnut Bread and Pumpkin, Dried Figs and Walnut Bread) and I wanted to find some new recipes.  I just recently purchased Ken Haedrich's cookbook, The Harvest Baker.  Before my husband and I left for the Denver Botanic Gardens the other morning, I thought I would make his recipe for Blueberry Cream Scones.  They are loaded with blueberries!  The recipe suggests that you add frozen blueberries because they keep their shape better and do not make a big "blue" mess.  And how convenient, I always have a couple of boxes of blueberries in my freezer.  I did make one alteration to the recipe, I added about 1/4 cup of chopped candied ginger which really put them over the top.  The scones have cream in them (and of course butter) which gives them a such wonderful creamy texture.  Prep time was minimal and they were quite easy to make.
I have marked many of the recipes to try, such as: Everything Biscuits which has onion, spinach, carrot and garlic in them with a flour, cornmeal, buttermilk and cheddar cheese base.  Ricotta, Lemon and Blackberry MuffinsCreme Fraiche Corn Quiche.  And many more...  There are numerous recipes for pizzas, flat breads, tarts, cookies, pot pies...  The layout, photography and type make it all a very enjoyable cookbook to read. 

One more cookbook added to my collection!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

A Morning at the Denver Botanic Gardens amongst the sculptures of Mike Whiting

It was a perfect morning to spend at the Denver Botanic Gardens.  When we left the house, it was only 58 out.  Currently at the gardens is an exhibition of brightly-colored steel  sculptures by artist Mike Whiting.  I particularly liked the saguaro "CACTUS" amongst the flowing plants.
The show, titled PIXELATED, painted steel sculptures showcasing the relationship between the reality of the natural world and the simulated world of digital media.  His "figures" represent the fusion of the pixel-graphic world and minimalist sculptures.  I feel I was encountering a large LEGO set.
I am always attracted to this water feature, the orange stucco wall and the blue pots planted with agave.
" Birdie" - an orange and blue theme just like the water feature and the pots!  The artist purposely scratched and exposed the raw steel so it would rust when exposed to nature, making it more like the real world.
This sedum, called Mr. Goodbud, was so colorful.
Whiting's Buck, was perfectly positioned in this forest like setting.
The lily ponds are another favorite of mine.  I can just imagine jumping from one lily leaf to the other (and falling right thru!).
The Azaleas were in their prime!
More lilies.
And more lilies....
The reflections on the water in the morning light were spectacular.
Bird, a steel body painted blue measures 136" high x 124"wide x 41"deep.  Originally designed to be a sculpture in a public lagoon where migrant birds would flock to.

It was a gorgeous morning and getting to the gardens right when they open their doors is perfect.  Hardly anyone was there!

The Denver Botanic Gardens
1007 York Street
Denver, Colorado

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Cuitlacoche, a delicacy in Mexican cuisine

I know, you are thinking, what the heck is Cuitlacoche or Huitlacoche?  Well, it's a corn fungus found on the corn usually during the rainy season or on crops that have been irrigated.  You will find it growing right on the corn kernels, bulging out of its husk, each pocket encased in a silvery-gray skin but inside this pocket, is a fibrous black flesh.  These pockets, mushroom-like growths, are called galls. 

Pronounced "weet-la-COH-cheh, it is also known as corn smut and often referred to as the Mexican truffle and is considered a delicacy in Mexico.   It has a rather pungent, earthy flavor with overtones of mushrooms and corn.  

Cuitlacoche dates back to the Aztecs, even pre-columbian times.  The name comes from Nahyatl words cuitlatl (excrement) and cochtli (asleep).  It has one of the highest protein contents of the mushroom family and more protein than corn.  It is also high in amino acid lysine which is a building block of protein and used to make medicine, known to improve athletic performance, good for ones kidneys and preventing cold sores.  I guess the ancient Aztecs knew what they were doing.

Ideally it is best to buy it still attached to the corn cob, but often it is sold in the markets in Mexico already removed from the cob.  It is quite perishable, so best used immediately.  Fresh cuitlacoche does freeze well and can last about six months.  It is available canned in the US, brands like San Marcos, La Costena, Goya...  Ideally, fresh cuitlacoche is the way to go.

Cuitlacoche is used in soups, tacos, crepes, tamales and bodines.  When dried, it is used in a very different mole in Tlaxala, in the state of Oaxaca.  If you have Diana Kennedy's The Art and Essentials cookbook, you will find many of her recipes using cuitlacoche.  

I like to saute a bit of onion and garlic in olive oil and then add chopped cuitlacoche and cook over medium heat for about ten minutes.  Don't be afraid to add some salt.  My favorite is to make quesadillas with this cuitlacoche mixture along with queso Chihuahua.  If Chihuahua cheese is not available, a mix of Cheddar and Monterrey makes for a good substitution.  

There is one restaurant in San Miguel de Allende, Tacos Don Felix, that has been making quesadillas cuitlacohe for as long as I can remember.  Las Mercedes in Guanajuato also uses cuitlacoche in a few of their dishes, especially in their mini chalupas.  It is definitely worth a visit to either one of these restaurants to try this unusual delicacy.  I take my groups to both these restaurants when I am leading my San Miguel de Allende tours and I love introducing them to this unusual dish.
In the market in Oaxaca, this lady had a beautiful basket full of fresh cuitlacoche, not to mention the gorgeous, long stemmed Calla Lilies for sale.
When there's a fungus amongst us, try it!   
Buen Provecho.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Gorgeous, Colorful Embroidery of the Otomi

The Otomi , an indigenous group from central Mexico, in Tenango, in the state of Hidalgo create some of the most colorful, creative embroidery.  The Otomi are believed to have lived in the Valley, way before the Nahuati speaking population that would later become the Aztec Empire.  The name Otomi comes from Nahuati word origins, Otoac (walk) and mitl (arrow).  When combined, forms "Ootomitl", later becoming Otomi meaning "those who hunt birds with bow and arrow."
Tenango, "stone neighborhood", is home to numerous caves with petroglyphs of animals, flora and fauna.  These images were inspirations to the Otomi's embroidery.  Other influences were how the shamans decorated their Amate.  Amate is a tradition that can be dated back to PreHispanic time.  Indigenous natives would make a textured paper called Amate from the bark of the fig or mulberry tree. Designs were drawn and cut on the Amate and they were strung together. These banners were hung as decorations for religious ceremonies and other celebrations.  Amate was what influenced the practice of Papel Picado; see post dated May 21, 2010.
Prior to the colonial influence of Europe, the Otomi were already weavers.   These designs were originally used only on women's blouses.  Due to a severe drought that devastated the crops in the Tenango de Doria region, they were forced to make their work available to those that lived outside of their community.  This textile above truly shows the elegant movement and flow of the animals.
It was not until the 1960's that the textile designs became part of home decor.  This is a runner that I recently purchased at a store in San Miguel de Allende.  Such vibrant colors and it makes such a strong statement along with the blue glass bowl that I had bought ages ago at Guajuye, the best place to find hand-blown glass in San Miguel de Allende.
In the market and a few stores around town, you can find tops, dresses, pillows, place mats, table runners, coasters...

Patterns are first drawn usually on an off-white cotton muslin.  Using a super-narrow herringbone stitch to create the figures, it can take up to three months for an artisan to produce a piece that measures 2 square meters (a little over 21 square feet).  I have seen stunning headboards made from the Otomi fabrics!  And even drum-shaped shades for a dramatic lighting effect over a dining room table.
In 2012, Hermes of Paris created a series of silk scarves inspired by the Tenango designs.  In 1995, Cristina Pineda (a fabric designer) and Ricardo Covalin (an industrial designer) formed Pineda Covalin, a Mexican line of handsome clothing, accessories and shoes, whose designs are inspired by elements of the Indigenous Mexican art and culture.  
Some of the many selections in the market.
 At the Rosewood Resort in San Miguel de Allende.  Subtle but so very elegant.
Hotel Matilda in San Miguel de Allende embellished a side of one the hotel's wall with an oversized Otomi design of flowers and animals.  I just love it.  I may have to do that on the side of my house.  
So when on one of my San Miguel de Allende tours, I can lead you some of the best places to find these beautiful Otomi creations!