Ron and I were introduced to a delicious new sauce called zhoug (pronounced zoog) when we were visiting our friends, Bonnie and Don, in Long Beach, California early this year – just before COVID-19 changed the world.
Bonnie is the queen of making fabulous food – FAST! I treat cooking as an exercise in meditation and I putter and play while I create. Bonnie, on the other hand, has learned the art of getting meals prepared quickly so she can move on to do other things she’d rather spend time on. She picked the zhoug sauce up at Trader Joe’s and Ron and I absolutely fell in love with it. We picked up extra to bring home to Mexico, but the supply didn’t last very long. The answer, then, was to figure out how to make it myself!
Zhoug originated in Yemen but is now enjoyed in many other parts of the world (our friend, Henry, remembers having it while living in Israel). I’m a huge fan of chimichurri, but find that zhoug is brighter, spicier, greener and fresher. I use it on and in everything, literally, and it makes the BEST guacamole when mixed into mashed avocado. Using a food processor, this literally takes 10 minutes to make and clean up. Give it a whirl – literally!
3 cloves garlic
2 Serrano chiles, seeds and membranes removed and cut in big chunks
1 large bunch cilantro, washed and dried
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. dried crushed chile flakes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Place all ingredients (except olive oil and lemon juice) into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until chopped fine. Add olive oil and lemon juice and blend into a coarse paste.
Store in a sealed, glass jar in your refrigerator for up to a week (if it lasts that long!).
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.
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!
Yesterday, June 20, was the birthday of two beautiful young friends of mine who are both, ironically, named Crystal. Not a common name, and I only realized last year that they shared the same birthday. One of the definitions of the word “crystal” is glass of fine quality with a high degree of brilliance. Change the word “glass” to “woman” and it perfectly defines both of these amazing ladies.
Crystal #1 is a brilliant jeweller in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico that I met in Puerto Vallarta many years ago. She is talented, resourceful, passionate and someone whom I admire and love very much. She became my second unofficially “adopted” daughter about fifteen years ago. The distance between us has kept us from actually seeing one another in person very often, but we stay connected and always pick up exactly where we left off.
Crystal #2 is a wonderful young woman whom I met at a major oil and gas company in Calgary where we were both working. She moved to a smaller city in Alberta to continue her work in a petroleum-related business until a call back to the land took her back to her rural roots in Saskatchewan to fulfill her dream to take over her family’s farm.
I bring these young women up and the topic of synchronicity because my life seems to be surrounded by so much of it. Perhaps some of us are just more aware of these coincidences than others, or perhaps some of us actually experience these occurrences more frequently.
I was travelling from JFK in New York to Calgary yesterday and met a delightful young woman, Karen, from northern Germany, who has been living and working in Canada as an au pair. We struck up a conversation while waiting for the WestJet check-in to open and shared some great stories and histories. While we were waiting, a couple from Calgary, Candace and Hunter, lined up immediately behind Karen and commented that they had been seated next to her on the flight down from Calgary to JFK, randomly saw her several times in New York, were on the same subway train back to the airport, and then ultimately ended up in line immediately behind her again. As cliché as it may sound, we all agreed that it was a very small world indeed that was, in fact, getting smaller every day.
Hunter, Candace and Karen
My most memorable story of personal synchronicity happened almost 15 years ago with Crystal #1, one of the young women that I introduced earlier. I had been in Mexico City probably seven years earlier where I spent several days with an amazing tour guide by the name of Emilio. Emilio was in the first graduating class of the University of Mexico after the Second World War and had so much knowledge and many extraordinary connections to make my time with him incredibly special. Fast-forward seven years and I was in the busy Zocalo area of Mexico City with Crystal and her friend, Zacbeeh. We had been buying jewelry materials for Crystal and were just on our way back to the Metro to head to Zacbeeh’s for the night. We were walking down the street and I looked and, much to my amazement, saw Emilio on the sidewalk right beside me – after so many years! Before this latest trip, he was the ONLY person that I knew in Mexico City – a city with a population of over 18 million. I remembered him and he remembered me. We embraced and quickly caught up, much to everyone’s amazement.
I’m not a religious person, but do consider myself to be spiritual. When these sorts of occurrences happen, I always feel incredibly blessed and that my angels are telling me that, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, I’m on the right path.
Ron and I are both so fortunate to still have our amazing mothers. My sparkplug of a Mom is 85 years young and living independently on our family farm east of Innisfail, Alberta. Ron’s Mom, Mary, turned 97 this past December and still lives in their family home of over 65 years in Santa Clara, CA and still takes total care of her home, herself and everyone in her life.
Mother Mary is an inspiration to all who know her. She’s an excellent driver and cruises all over Silicon Valley for her medical appointments and to pick up the organic groceries she prepares her legendary food with. An example of her eternal optimism, she bought a new car after an accident shortly after her 96th birthday (which was NOT her fault, by the way). She is still traveling every February to visit her oldest daughter and son-in-law, Mary and John, in Ajijic, just outside of Guadalajara, Mexico. She brings her youngest daughter, Claire, with her now and Ron and I try to get over to the mainland to share some precious time with Mother Mary and some of the family.
Mother Mary in Ajijic
Mary and Jake raised six children in their modest bungalow. Their home was filled not only with their own children, but with all the kids’ friends. Everyone was welcome and still is in Mother Mary’s home.
Mary made my Mom welcome back in early March. Our Moms got on the phone and conspired to meet, so Ron and I picked Mom up in San José, they spent a couple of days together, then we took my Mom down to Palm Springs with us for the Indian Wells BNP Tennis Tournament. It was very special to see these girls together, forming a new friendship, and learning that their lives shared many parallels that had much in common.
My Mom and Mother Mary
Neither of these women had easy lives and both started with extremely difficult childhoods. What could have made both of these women bitter had the complete opposite effect. Both chose to not be victims but rather the victors in their own lives. These women are my heroines.
I’ve been learning some of Mother Mary’s recipes over the years, watching her make them and listening to her explain, writing some of them down, taking photos of others so that her food will live on. It’s embarrassing when we visit twice a year because she won’t let us do ANYTHING for her, from food prep to even the dishes after one of her sumptuous meals. We spent almost a week with Mary and she treated us to a couple of her famous dishes and our favorites: Portuguese Omelet (with carmelized onions and flat leaf parsley), French Toast (with Trader Joe’s Cracked Wheat Sourdough Bread), Lamb Stew and her “Boiled Dinner” of corned beef, potatoes, cabbage, onions and carrots. The leftover corned beef made of the best road food sandwiches ever – we enjoyed them for days after we left Mother Mary’s.
Corned Beef “Boiled Dinner”
The last thing I wanted to do was bring illness into her home, but I succumbed to a bad flu/cold while we were visiting this last trip. Mother Mary immediately made a pot of chicken soup for me, which I feasted on every few hours for three days. I absolutely attribute her soup to my quick recovery. It was so delicious that I hated for it to end. She uses her Aunt May’s recipe which is filled with goodness. She started with three pounds of organic chicken legs that she cleans with salt before cooking. She covers with water and boils for one hour. Remove the chicken and set aside. Add celery, onion, carrots and, five minutes before serving, add some white rice and chopped parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve. Mary maintains that you need to sip on a small cup of this broth every few hours for the soup to work it’s best magic. Heat it up, with or without chicken taken off the bone, in the microwave to reheat. Mother Mary’s penicillin – it really works!
One of the things that Mary requested of us was to take a trip to Grass Valley to see her younger sister, Rosalie, who recently broke her leg and is scheduled for surgery in the near future. Rosalie is over 90 years old, as is their brother, Tony, and all of them are bright and in amazingly good health. A special cousin of theirs, affectionately known as “Little Mary” accompanied us that day and she is unbelievably healthy and beautiful – believe me, it’s shocking when you learn that she’s 84 years-old! Each and every one of these Portuguese seniors looks at least 20 years younger than their actual age indicates – they share some very special “fountain of youth” DNA!
Mother Mary, “Little Mary” and Aunt Rosalie
Never does a birthday or special occasion go by with Mary not sending a card and letter to acknowledge people and let them know she’s thinking of them. She demonstrates kindness, generosity and tremendous thoughtfulness to everyone who knows her. She is grateful for her extraordinary health and her ability to share with others and does so every single day. WE are incredibly grateful for both of our beautiful and precious Moms. We love them both with all our hearts and always will. xox