We’re in the Hamptons in New York right now and the bounty of the season is absolutely glorious. Fresh and delicious heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella cheese from Scotto’s, good quality olive oil, balsamic vinegar reduction, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper – nothing could taste better for a Caprese Salad than this.
My friend, Kajsa, introduced me to this presentation of Caprese – cutting the top off the tomato, then slicing the tomato without cutting through the bottom to create “petals” to put the mozzarella cheese and fresh basil leaves between. Once you have the “petals” stuffed, simply drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar reduction over, then sprinkle with a sparse amount of sea salt and course freshly ground black pepper. The secret is, as with everything, the freshness and goodness of the ingredients. Simple and delicious flavors to enjoy!
One year ago today, June 8, 2018, Anthony Bourdain died by his own hand in France at the age of 61. News of his suicide shocked the world as he appeared to be living and loving life to the fullest.
I literally ran into Anthony and his daughter, Ariane, about six years ago in Schmidt’s Market in Southampton, New York. We were both bent down to pick something up on a low shelf and got up at exactly the same time. He couldn’t have been more polite and I was surprised at how tall he was in real life and, in my opinion, far better looking than on television.
I always admired how “real” he made food and the tribute he paid to people and food culture around the world. What I admired most about him was his advocacy of the hard-working people from Spanish speaking countries: Mexico and the many countries of Central and South America. There is nary a restaurant kitchen in the United States that could or would function without these people and he championed his admiration of the people of Mexico in the following article entitled “Under the Volcano” which he wrote in May of 2014:
“Americans love Mexican food. We consume nachos, tacos, burritos, tortas, enchiladas, tamales and anything resembling Mexican in enormous quantities. We love Mexican beverages, happily knocking back huge amounts of tequila, mezcal, and Mexican beer every year. We love Mexican people—we sure employ a lot of them. Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, and look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy—the restaurant business as we know it—in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are “stealing American jobs.” But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position—or even a job as a prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do.
We love Mexican drugs. Maybe not you personally, but “we”, as a nation, certainly consume titanic amounts of them—and go to extraordinary lengths and expense to acquire them. We love Mexican music, Mexican beaches, Mexican architecture, interior design, Mexican films.
So, why don’t we love Mexico?
We throw up our hands and shrug at what happens and what is happening just across the border. Maybe we are embarrassed. Mexico, after all, has always been there for us, to service our darkest needs and desires. Whether it’s dressing up like fools and get passed-out drunk and sunburned on spring break in Cancun, throw pesos at strippers in Tijuana, or get toasted on Mexican drugs, we are seldom on our best behavior in Mexico. They have seen many of us at our worst. They know our darkest desires.
In the service of our appetites, we spend billions and billions of dollars each year on Mexican drugs—while at the same time spending billions and billions more trying to prevent those drugs from reaching us. The effect on our society is everywhere to be seen. Whether it’s kids nodding off and overdosing in small-town Vermont, gang violence in L.A., burned out neighborhoods in Detroit—it’s there to see. What we don’t see, however, haven’t really noticed, and don’t seem to much care about, is the 80,000 dead in Mexico, just in the past few years—mostly innocent victims. Eighty thousand families who’ve been touched directly by the so-called “War On Drugs”.
Mexico. Our brother from another mother. A country, with whom, like it or not, we are inexorably, deeply involved, in a close but often uncomfortable embrace. Look at it. It’s beautiful. It has some of the most ravishingly beautiful beaches on earth. Mountains, desert, jungle. Beautiful colonial architecture, a tragic, elegant, violent, ludicrous, heroic, lamentable, heartbreaking history. Mexican wine country rivals Tuscany for gorgeousness. Its archaeological sites—the remnants of great empires, unrivalled anywhere. And as much as we think we know and love it, we have barely scratched the surface of what Mexican food really is. It is NOT melted cheese over tortilla chips. It is not simple, or easy. It is not simply “bro food” at halftime. It is in fact, old—older even than the great cuisines of Europe, and often deeply complex, refined, subtle, and sophisticated. A true mole sauce, for instance, can take DAYS to make, a balance of freshly (always fresh) ingredients painstakingly prepared by hand. It could be, should be, one of the most exciting cuisines on the planet, if we paid attention. The old school cooks of Oaxaca make some of the more difficult and nuanced sauces in gastronomy. And some of the new generation—many of whom have trained in the kitchens of America and Europe—have returned home to take Mexican food to new and thrilling heights.
It’s a country I feel particularly attached to and grateful for. In nearly 30 years of cooking professionally, just about every time I walked into a new kitchen, it was a Mexican guy who looked after me, had my back, showed me what was what, and was there—and on the case—when the cooks like me, with backgrounds like mine, ran away to go skiing or surfing or simply flaked. I have been fortunate to track where some of those cooks come from, to go back home with them. To small towns populated mostly by women—where in the evening, families gather at the town’s phone kiosk, waiting for calls from their husbands, sons and brothers who have left to work in our kitchens in the cities of the North. I have been fortunate enough to see where that affinity for cooking comes from, to experience moms and grandmothers preparing many delicious things, with pride and real love, passing that food made by hand from their hands to mine.
In years of making television in Mexico, it’s one of the places we, as a crew, are happiest when the day’s work is over. We’ll gather around a street stall and order soft tacos with fresh, bright, delicious salsas, drink cold Mexican beer, sip smoky mezcals, and listen with moist eyes to sentimental songs from street musicians. We will look around and remark, for the hundredth time, what an extraordinary place this is.
At a time when many Americans embrace everything Mexican from its food, beverages, imports, etc., Bourdain challenged the hypocritical attitudes towards immigration and was a tremendous champion of the underdog and stood up for these people who make up the backbone of many sectors of the American economy.
I love Mexico – its people, cuisine, culture, music and the beauty of the country itself. It is diverse, rich and beautiful. Thank you, Anthony, for being a champion for this amazing country and its people. Rest in peace.
My dear friend, Denise, served this delicious dish to me a couple of years ago and I absolutely loved it! She got the recipe from her daughter, Joni – both mother and daughter are GREAT cooks. I had some beautiful broccoli florets from the Organic Market up the street and some shrimp in the freezer from Costco and half an hour later – voilá! I made a couple of modifications to the recipe, but here it is:
1 lb. broccoli florets, cut into bite-size pieces
4 tbsp. avocado oil (extra virgin olive oil may be substituted), divided
1 tsp. whole coriander seeds
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. Maldon or kosher salt, divided
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided
1/8 tsp. cayenne chile powder
1 lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined
lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
lemon wedges, for serving
Preheat oven to 425F. In a large bowl, toss broccoli florets with 2 tbsp. oil, coriander, cumin, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. black pepper and chile powder. In a separate bowl, combine shrimp (thawed and drained, if using frozen), remaining 2 tbsp. avocado oil, lemon zest, remaining 1/4 tsp. salt and remaining 1/2 tsp. black pepper.
Spread broccoli in a single layer on a baking sheet (or I used a large cast iron frying pan) and roast for 10 minutes. Add shrimp to baking sheet and toss with broccoli. Roast, tossing once after 10 minutes. Cook until shrimp are pink (and curled) and broccoli is tender and golden around the edges, about 5 to 10 minutes more. Serve with lemon wedges, or squeeze lemon juice all over shrimp and broccoli just before serving.
I always feel, when I pull this bad boy out of the cupboard, that we’re part of the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner Hour. Acme was always the brand that the Roadrunner featured and it always puts a smile on my face when I use it.
My parents bought this centrifugal juicer back in the 50’s – sometime after my brother, George, was born in 1956 and before I arrived in 1959. Lots of fruit and vegetables have been juiced in this machine and I am so grateful to have it with us in Cabo.
Getting the juicer here was no small feat. It’s heavy, and I mean REALLY heavy and there was no way that it was ever going to be part of my luggage. Mom’s neighbors and friends, Rob and Kathy, drove down every year from Alberta to Vicente Guerrero, a small puebla located on Highway 1, approximately 175 south of Tijuana, Mexico. They come, at their own expense, to do missionary work at the orphanage located there. We admire their commitment and selflessness very much. Anyway, Rob and Kathy agreed to stow boxes for me for three different years so that I could get some of my heavier articles here. The Acme juicer arrived last winter and we were so grateful to receive it.
After my parents bought it, my Dad belonged to a health club that had a steam room. Dad loved onions and decided to make onion juice for himself using the Acme juicer. It seemed like a good idea until he went to the steam room after drinking the juice. One by one, every single man got up and left. It finally dawned on Dad that the onion juice was coming through his pores and he stunk out the other steam room users. They say that a skunk smells his own smell last! I guess that was true in this situation.
My Mom processed high bush cranberries in that juicer and so much more over the years. One of the highlights when I was a kid was the treat of fresh carrot juice when we dug up our garden. I loved carrot juice then and I absolutely still love it now!
Some years ago, the lug nut in the centre of the machine stripped out and I was desperate to find a replacement. The internet is a wonderful thing as I located a parts provider in Minneapolis, MN, who sent me the part I needed to keep the juicer going for a few more decades (this machine was definitely made to LAST!)!
The other day I dug out “Old Faithful” and did up a batch of juice using fresh organic carrots and beets from our local market, ginger, apple and cucumber that we grew in our Tower Garden, ginger and apple. It was absolutely delicious and transported me to those years on the farm when we made our harvest carrot juice in the fall.
Thanks, Mom (and Rob and Kathy), for finding a way to send this treasure and piece of family history to its new home in Mexico!
We had the pleasure of having my precious Mom here for just over three weeks. She wanted to contribute, so was given the job of checking the pomegranate trees for ripe fruit, then picking and seeding them (and a couple of other jobs as well, but not as fun as this one).
Our Pomegranate Queen!
We had a beautiful rain and, unlike most days when there are one or perhaps two ready, we had over a dozen bursting and ready to harvest the day following when the sun came out. We managed to give a few of them away, but Mom faithfully seeded the ones we were left with and put them in containers in the fridge for our consumption.
Pomegranates are absolutely DELICIOUS when picked off the tree, as any fresh fruit is, and we kept Mom very busy with this task. I promised to make her a very famous Mexican dish called Chiles en Nogada, but we just ran out of time. I committed to practicing and making them for her next year and I made my first batch last night, inspired by a recipe from the Atlantic magazine by Rick Bayless.
Traditional Chiles en Nogada originates from Puebla, is tied to the independence of Mexico, and celebrates the three colors of the Mexican flag: green from the Poblano chile, white from the walnut cream sauce, and red from the pomegranate seeds. This dish is usually served at room temperature, but I reheated the chiles, stuffed with picadillo (a mixture of ground lamb, fruits and spices), then topped them with the cold walnut cream sauce and garnished with the pomegranate seeds. I served the Chiles en Nogada with steamed romanesco, beautiful and fresh from the organic market up the street.
Chiles en Nogada and Steamed Romanesco
This is definitely a time-consuming dish to prepare, but I look forward to making it for Mom next year when she visits. It’s the least I can do for all the pomegranates that she picked and painstakingly seeded for all of us to enjoy!