Monthly Archives: September 2010

South African Epicuriosity, Part 2

Last month, I launched this miniseries of posts where I tackled some of the great eats I had along the road from Johannesburg to Cape Town, from Nelspruit to Polokwane and back again. My first attempt was an entree that failed miserably to stand up to its inspiration.

Up next, breakfast!

Feta French Toast

LOCATION: The Health Path, 41 Victoria Ave., Hout Bay, Western Cape

DATE: Monday, June 14, 2010 and Tuesday, June 15, 2010

BACKGROUND: Before heading out to Constantia for some wine-tasting, we figured we’d go for a quick breakfast. It was getting late and a coffee shop seemed just the perfect fit. We were walking by this place and decided to go inside. At first it seemed a waste of time. Yes, there were cool organic, green-living things to buy but in terms of sustenance it seemed to just have coffees and teas… ugh, and protein bars or something equally gross. Luckily, hiding in plain sight was a dry erase board with the day’s specials. Among them, French Toast.

WHY SO YUMMY: French Toast is usually divine. How can you go wrong with bread and syrup? This meal used thick slices of raisin loaf, topped it with feta cheese and organic agave syrup! But they went a step further. This was a health shop, remember. Served on the side of my french toast and a little garnish on top — sprouts and sliced tomatoes! It was REALLY good and if you couldn’t tell by now by the dates above, it was worth a second trip. Oh, and the coffe was delish too. If you’re ever in this bay tucked outside Cape Town, check them out. I can’t promise you’ll be greeted with the best French Toast ever, but you may find something equally interesting.

WHAT I DID: Well, if I’m going to attempt organic feta french toast, obviously my first trip is Whole Foods. I found some Sprouted Wheat Cinnamon Raisin bread for the base and agave nectar for the syrup. What I didn’t find was that amazing feta cheese. I improvised with your standard $4.50 goat cheese. A touch of nutmeg here, some egg whites there… and VOILA! My masterpiece:

I must say I was impressed with this. A definite improvement over that disastrous fondue. I still need to work on my plating techniques. Perhaps a nice white plate next time to make the food pop. As any good Iron Chef will tell you, plating is worth 25 percent.

PHOTOS (from top): The original Feta French Toast from The Health Plan (credit: MexiCAN #2); My version is slightly underwhelming but delicious. It could even become a staple of my kitchen repertoire (credit: me).

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Taxco… de mis amores

Yo soy de un pueblito, chiquito y bonito
que se llama Taxco el colonial,
con sus casas viejas, sus quebradas callejas,
su hermosa iglesia que es el orgullo del mineral.

Cuando llega un viajero, pregunta a la entrada,
que como se llama donde va a llegar,
alguien le contesta: ¡Ese es Taxco el colonial!

Taxco de mis amores,
jardincito de flores,
donde he pasado los años
esperando a mis amores.

—Raful Krayem

Listen: Taxco de mis amores

This small sleepy town that bored me to death as a child on vacations has grown to be one of my favorite places. It’s family.

This is where my father’s side of the family hails from… and myself too. I lived there as a baby and was baptized at Chavarrieta, a little church in my grandmother’s backyard. That’s not an exaggeration. SEE ABOVE: White church is Chavarrieta. Row of windows in foreground is grandma’s.

For those of you unawares with this gem, Taxco de Alarcón is a town of about 50,000 propped on the hills of Guerrero. It’s a couple of hours southwest of DF. If you are traveling there, then I suggest buses. I’ve seen some pretty awesome Nic Cage movies on Estrella de Oro. You shouldn’t tackle those curves at 5,000 feet unless you’re an expert at them.

With narrow cobblestone streets and silver around every corner, this place is a historic site. If you dare build something other than the approved white or natural colors, you’ll get a stern talking-to, probably from my grandmother (honored for her work in restoring Santa Prisca). She’ll kill me if I don’t say this: Santa Prisca, built more than 250 years ago and backed by the generous fortune of Spaniard José de la Borda, is the only historic building representing one complete style — Baroque, Mexican Baroque. Thanks to homeboy’s silver-mining money, the church was built within seven years. A lot of these older buildings, churches especially, took decades or longer to complete. Also, there are a handful of altars inside covered in gold. Oh, yeah… and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.

This is also where poinsettias were discovered.  Last, but not least, this is where all that silver you see on QVC comes from:

The sights along a quick walk from my grandmother’s house to the zocalo. Hola, abue…

What’s that at the top of the hill?

Let’s get a closer look, shall we?

Oh, it’s a Christ statue. Liking what you saw in Rio, eh?

Back to the streets:

Zocalo! Check out all those homes on the hillside.

Yep, there’s the statue again.

Artists in the zocalo.

Santa Prisca façade

Inside Santa Prisca, gold altars.

Window detail

More street shots

Artist rendering

Something Old

As promised, here are more photos from Mexico. This blog entry is dedicated to one of the best cultural wells down south. I’m speaking about all the civilizations that lived in the area long before any European landed here. For thousands of years, Mesoamerica was home to many, many, many, many people. The Big Three, most common, are the Olmecas, Mayans and Aztecs. But, that’s just scratching the surface. Just take a look at the map above and your head starts to dizzy.  Sometime ago, I heard that there are thousands of Mesoamerican ruins scattered throughout Mexico that have yet to be unearthed or excavated. (This little tidbit is unsubstantiated but if you think about, how would you go about proving if it’s right unless/until you unearth or excavate everything…. wow, deep.)

Anyway… If you find yourself in DF, the Museo Nacional de Antropología is a must-see! A must!

Here are a few pics from around the way.

High up in the hills of Morelos stand the ruins of the El Tepozteco, a temple to the god of pulque. It’s a hike to reach, but once you do, you see great views of the valley and can even perch yourself on the ruins.

Sticking with an Aztec theme, here are some finds housed at that awesome museum I mentioned earlier. It’s the stone Aztec calendar and a statue of Coatlicue, mother of the gods, with claws on her feet and snakes as her head.

Moving on to the Yucatan. Mayan marvel Chichen Itza and even older Tulum:

One of the most well-preserved sites throughout Mexico — Teotihuacan. This is not an Aztec site! Don’t get it confused. The Avenue of the Dead runs down the site, flanked by second largest temple in the western hemisphere. Don’t get scared.

And back to the capital. This is Tlatelolco, or the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, home to many a bloody massacre over the years. A Spanish church was erected on the site. The building materials — Aztec ruins. Symbolic? (btw, the Third Culture, not pictured, is modern-day Mexico.)

TRANSLATION: On Aug. 13, 1521, heroically defended by Cuauhtemoc, Tlatelolco fell to the hands of Hernan Cortes. It was neither triumph nor defeat but the painful birth of the mestizo people who are Mexico today. (give or take. the poetry is lost on my quickie translation)

More Mexico photos.. hay les van mas

This is the last batch of photos for today, tomorrow I’ll return with some of my favorite spots in Mexico. Maybe you’ve been there too.

For now, we continue with our theme, here are some more shots from the Distrito Federal:

Why include this? Because it perfectly emanates the essence of Mexico:
1. Fun 2. Murals 3. Papier mâché Day of the Dead
4. Tongue permanently planted in cheek.

PHOTOS from top: El Caballito; Bellas Artes; Palacio de Correos; Diego Rivera murals; inside cathedral in zocalo; angel; art.

Now, here are some shots of our patron saint:

PHOTOS from top: La Virgen; not me in front of Basilica; serenade at Basilica; offerings.

Our patron drink:

Random life shots:

PHOTOS from top: Puebla zocalo; Puebla street shot; church in Cholula; boats in Cuernavaca; another church in Cholula; church in Tepoztlan with arch made of frijoles!

“…y que viva Mexico!!!”

¡Saludos!

At midnight tonight, we celebrate the 200 anniversary of Mexican Independence Day. In tribute, as an honor, an homage or because I just wanted to dust off some old photos and let them be seen by more than me in a camera view finder, I am posting a few pictures of mi México, lindo y querido.

First, a quick history lesson: Nueva España didn’t really liberate itself in 1810. That was just the start of the war for independence (and a whole bunch of other things). What happened today and what is celebrated is the “start” of liberation with El Grito de Dolores. Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo gave a little speech this night. Perhaps you’ve heard it? Or you’ve heard other versions? (“Mexico” didn’t exist back then, so though everyone attributes, Que viva México.., to him, it’s doubtful). Every year, el presidente stands on the balcony of the National Palace overlooking the zocalo and shouts his own version of the Grito… there’s no mistake in this one: “¡… que viva México!”

Ok, onto photos. Since it’s going to be a lot, first I will upload some shots of the raising of the flag in the Zocalo. (Another fun fact: the Zocalo—with a capital Z—is the main square in the Distrito Federal. Many moons ago, there were plans to erect a monument to independence here. Those were scrapped and what remains is the base, or “zocalo.” The word is now almost universally known as a main plaza or square.)

Now, for realz, onto photos:

PHOTOS: Pomp and circumstance accompanies the daily raising of the HUGE flag at the Plaza de la Constitucion in Mexico.

If you can shop for my mom, you can rule the world

Ah, mothers! Love them most days. Can’t stand them around the birthdays.

Since my mother’s birthday is this week, I thought it would be fun to discuss the complex psychological trickery and chicanery that occurs this time of year. It’s different from Mother’s Day or Christmas. Her birthday is an event. And you’d be a fool to forget it… A word to the wise, she keeps track — sometimes mental, sometimes written — of who calls and when.

Ever since I was a wee kid and could conceive of spending my own money on presents for my mother, I realized this would be tricky. I loved painted macaroni and glitter and mom presents were a perfect excuse to dust them off and play a little. The end result would be proudly displayed on a refrigerator for a couple weeks, at least. When was it no longer OK to give the gift of art? High school? College? Last year?

I was guilted into parting with cash while I was a UCLA student. That was right around the time my money was tied up in paying for rent, paying for books, paying for coffee. What little spending cash I had leftover was graciously provided by the Bank of Parents.

The first time I chose to get her more than a card and flowers on Mother’s Day was the last time. It was spring 2002 (maybe ’03). A nice pair of sunglasses was just what she would love. So I threw down almost $300 on those two-toned rimless Chanels. The ones with the rhinestones in the emblem. Remember them? They came in different colors: blue, purple, pink, black, brown.

For my mom, with her penchant for gold, browns and animal prints, I bought the brown/gold pair. Match made in heaven. And I told her, even though your birthday is four months away, that’s it. This is all I can afford… maybe even for Christmas too.

All proud of my purchase, I wrapped it up nicely. Made a whole production of the affair. Sunday comes. She opens it. All smiles. SUCCESS!

A few weeks later, we meet up for lunch or something and I catch her wearing some chafa on her face. (chafa: Spanish for cheap, chintzy crap) If those weren’t dug out of a bin at the Dollar Store then they certainly came from the deep crevices of a couch cushion.

The OUTRAGE!

Why aren’t you wearing the pair I just sacrificed my food budget for???

Oh, those? Because they keep sliding off my face and I don’t want them to accidentally fall and get scratched.

So when will you wear them???

I don’t know.

Ok, how about when I let you have them back?

It was right around this point where I ungifted those Chanel glasses. Considering I spent some $$ on them, they were going to get used one way or another. (Fast forward many years: They’re still around and now they look worse than that chafa she originally had.)

Another time…

…for her birthday, I got her another nice pair of glasses. These were prescriptions. Some sweet Elizabeth Arden green frames. I even sprung the extra bucks to make sure there was no classy bifocal line. What of those? Lost.

Lesson learned: Do not get her eyewear for presents. Poor investment.

Now she tells me that she should look into getting new, quality lenses. Her eyes are starting to hurt. And those headaches she sometimes gets? I shrugged and said something snarky about the 99¢ Store.

New problem…

It’s her birthday. Obviously, glasses are not an option.

If I get her flowers… “Hmm… You shouldn’t have… really. I have my own rose bushes in the back.”

If I buy her clothes or accessories… “Where’d you get this? I could have found it cheaper.”

If I suggest a massage or spa day… “Just give me the cash instead.”

This year, I decided to buy her some Aveda products. I got her relaxing and yummy-smelling treats and the Green Science line, mainly to keep her fingers out of my .5-ounce $50 jars. It’s a bit pricey all together but she can’t poo-poo it. My mom’s at that age where she’ll gladly accept any gifts (no matter the cost) that will help her look like a young girl of 40.

¡Feliz Cumple!

PHOTOS (from top): The infamous glasses as they looked many years ago; Now, though still around, they are missing rhinestones, are super scratched, dirty and uncomfortable.

RUN for your life!!! (no, not really)

I’ve flipped the page on my 2010 calendar once again, which means I am one month closer to the end of the year and that much closer to meeting or failing my resolutions. It’s time to check in.

1. Running Los Angeles Marathon

This isn’t a 2010 resolution. I’m including it here as a show of good faith. This weekend, I will seriously consider signing up for the race. Regardless, I will run in March and I have already begun to train.

which leads to…

2. Running Los Angeles Half Marathon

My current training finish line. The inaugural Rock ‘n Roll is next month. I’m up to 7 miles for the weekend run and will add until I reach 12 miles right before the race.

3. Running, generally speaking

Ok, here’s the first mention of an actual resolution. I resolved to run 500 miles this year. I started off rocky and slow and decided that August was when I needed to get my stuff in order. To reach this milestone, I had to average about 80 miles a month. How did I fare in August? Not quite 80. I managed 50 miles.

Now, I need to pump it up to 87.5 miles a month to get that done. That breaks down to about 22 miles a week or 3 miles a day!

I started off in good shape for September. I’m sure I ran my required 3 miles yesterday, if not slightly more. I’m going to throw in another 3 tonight, a quick 2-miler tomorrow, my 7 for the weekend and another 4 early next week. That’ll get me to about 19 miles in the first week of September. Not quite enough, but I’m not worried about that 3-mile differential. I’ll make it up in coming days.

As I’ve said, once I set a goal or a race to train for, the mileage comes… whether I like it or not. After the Oct. 24 race, I’m considering another trip to Vegas in early December. That should provide enough momentum to get me to LA marathon.

4. Pull ups

That’s a simple yes or no. I’m a resounding, Not yet.

I have made some progress. I graduated from 60 lbs. on the row machine to 70 lbs. So far, I’m still just doing sets of six, but that’s impressive!

Also, I’ve decided to see how I manage on the assisted pull-up machine. Way back when, I had it on the very last level (or most amount of assisted weight). I think the machine was helping me with 116 lbs. It was light, but I couldn’t handle the next rung. On my last trip to the gym, I was at 92 lbs assisted. According to the law of averages, if I want to successfully pull myself up, I should continue to shed 23 lbs of assistance a month.

NEW GOAL: Reach 69 assisted lbs. by Oct. 1

PHOTOS: Just pretty shots of UCLA campus, my new running location as of yesterday with MexiCAN #2. (from top) Shapiro Fountain at the top of Janss Steps; Students mill around campus; Powell Library. (Credit: Stephanie Diani/UCLA)