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Photo Food Diary of My Trip to Chiapas

17 Oct

One of the things that’s become an indispensable part of my travels is photographing the food I eat.  Eating is such an integral part of the travel experience for me now, that only photographing landscapes simply won’t do.  The most notable part of my recent trip to Chiapas, Mexico, was a stop at La Casa del Pan, a vegetarian Mexican restaurant in San Cristobal de las Casas run by Kippy Nigh.  La Casa de Pan emphasizes local and organic foods, and the restaurant grows much of the food it serves.  I bought Kippy’s cookbook, A Taste of Mexico, about 5 years ago, never imagining when I bought it that I would one day meet the author.  We talked about food and her restaurant, and she was kind enough to take a picture with me.

It turned out that the day we arrived at La Casa del Pan was also El Dia Nacional del Maiz (National Day of Corn).  To celebrate the occasion, the lunch buffet menu was filled with corn-themed dishes.  This meal was the most delicious meal we ate during our trip. The first thing we ate was this wonderful corn soup, made with little balls of masa, fresh corn, and herbs, including chipilin, which one can pretty much only find in Chiapas.  It was a very special soup!  With the soup, we ate bread freshly made at La Casa del Pan’s bakery.

 

Next, the salad bar.  The menu included a multitude of wonderful salads, including green salad with cilantro dressing, an apple and beet salad, a corn salad with blue and yellow corn, a sweet potato salad, jicama and cucumber, cauliflower salad, and several others.

To drink, we had an atole–like drink, except it was not hot.  It was made with annatto seed (known as achiote in Spanish), and slightly sweet.

Next, the main event.  This was a corn pudding, with what I believe were poblano peppers, eggs, and maybe cream?  I couldn’t quite identify all the ingredients.  It was served over a layer of a smooth tomato-based sauce.

Last, but not least, corn for dessert!  We had a corn-based cake that was just the right level of sweetness–not too much, not too little.  I also ordered cafe de olla (sweetened and flavored with cinammon and other things).

We also had breakfast twice at La Casa del Pan.  I ordered a fresh juice called El Vampiro, made with carrots, beets, and I think parsley.  I also ordered scrambled eggs with a “cuernito” or a croissant-like bread.  It was so buttery and delicious!

Another place we love to eat is 100% Natural, a Mexican chain of restaurants emphasizing fresh, good quality food.  We ordered a vegetarian omelet and “German” eggs.  I also ordered a “Hierro” juice (Iron), with spinach, beets, and carrots.

The last outstanding restaurant we visited in San Cristobal was El Caldero, a restaurant that serves only caldos, which is Spanish for stew or soup.  I was thoroughly impressed with the fact that most of the 15 or so caldos on the menu included a vegetarian option.  The avocado we had at this place was perfectly ripe, and was enough to make a some satisfying tacos with the hot corn tortillas they gave us.

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The Strawberry Challenge, Part Deux: Jam!

5 May

After the strawberry picking I wrote about a few days ago, a friend and I used some of our bounty to make jam and can it.  I observed my mom can a multitude of foods as a kid–jam, jelly, pickles, tomatoes, corn, and soup, to name a few.  However, I’d never canned anything myself.  Though canning can be anxiety-inducing, I can now say that it in all honesty is wasn’t that difficult. The results of our jam canning journey were fantastic, I have to say.

Before I get into the process, a few tips:

  • Most of the time, you will find jars and lids in the disposable containers section of a store, near the aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and all that type of thing.  The pectin I reference in the recipe below will also most likely be found near the jars.
  • You can reuse the jars and the rings you use to secure the lids.  However, you cannot reuse the lids themselves.  You can buy separate boxes of lids for future canning endeavors.
  • Though I did not know this at the time, canning jam does not require a boiling water bath, which we did here.  My mom says it’s not necessary….I’ll discuss that more later.
  • It’s helpful to have a “jar grabber” to fetch hot jars from boiling water, but metal tongs also work.  You can buy a jar grabber, funnel for filling the jars, and a magnet for retrieving your lids from the water in a kit.  These kits are sold in the same section of the store as the jars themselves.

Step 1:  Prep work.

Take the lids and rings off your jars, put them in a pot full of water, and bring to a boil.  Immediately when the water comes to a boil, turn off the burner and leave the lids until ready to use.

In a separate large pot, bring water to a boil.  It should be enough water to reach 1 to 2 inches above the top of the jars. Then, turn down so the water is still boiling, but much more slowly.  Drop your jars in the water using the jar grabber, cover, and boil for about 5 minutes.  The purpose of this process is to disinfect the jars so your jam will not mold.  Get out a big towel, remove each jar, empty the water, and set on the towel to dry.

Step 2:  Make the jam.

Ingredients

2 quarts strawberries, washed and stemmed

4 cups of sugar

1 package of pectin (a powder that comes in a box, important for giving the jam its texture)

Instructions

Get out a big saucepan or pot, and combine the strawberries and pectin over medium heat.  No water necessary–you’ll be amazed at how much water the strawberries release as they cook.  Stir every few minutes, and bring the strawberries to a boil.  Add the sugar, and stir constantly as the jam mixture boils (about 1 or 2 minutes).  Turn the heat down and continue stirring the jam for a few minutes.  If you want your jam to be smoother, feel free to mash the berries before cooking.  I prefer chunky jam, so I left the berries whole.

Step 3:  Can the jam.

Remove the jam from the heat.  Prepare the jars.  Dry off any remaining water from the sterilization process.  Retrieve your lids from the water using the magnet.  Have the rings at the ready.  Place the funnel over the first jar, and pour in the hot jam, leaving about 1/4 inch of head space.  Wipe the edge of the jar to remove any spillage, cover with the lid, and screw on.  Repeat until you have filled all your jars.  The above recipe produced almost 5 full, 12 oz. jars of jam.  I did not have enough jam to completely fill the fifth jar, so I left that one out to refrigerate.  The other four jars are preserved for a later time.  You’ll notice as the jam and the jars start to cool, the lids will make a popping sound.  This means that they are sealed!  After 12 hours or so, check all the lids for a vacuum seal by removing the ring and checking to see if the lid is secure.  If so, you have a seal, and the jam will be good to use for about a year.  A fun variation on this jam is to add some balsamic vinegar.  Yum!

To cap off the experience, we at some of my jam with a fresh baguette from Sweetish Hill Bakery in Austin, farm fresh butter (purchased from the farmer’s market), and some wonderful balsamic vinegar from Bella Vista Ranch in Wimberley, Texas.  How delicious!


The Strawberry Challenge, Part I

3 May

Finally, I’m back.  I am re-committing to blogging about my everyday and unique food experiences, posting recipes and photos, and sharing tips on cooking and eating well.  Here goes….It feels great to be blogging again.

I’m dividing The Strawberry Challenge into 2 or 3 posts, because there’s a lot of material and lot of recipes to talk about!

For my first blog post back from my long hiatus, I’m writing about and posting pictures of a strawberry picking excursion I made yesterday with a great group of foodie friends.  We went to Sweet Berry Farm near Marble Falls, Texas, where you pick your own berries.  I’d never done anything like this before, with the exception of the hot summer wild blackberry picking I did in my Missouri youth.

This whole experience has been great.  I picked my own strawberries, got a little dirty, made my own jam and canned it, and found several other ways to use my berry harvest.  It reminds me of summers at home, where my mom spent many hours canning or freezing to take full advantage of the garden’s bounty or neighbors’ generosity.  We grew tomatoes, peppers, sweet corn, and other vegetables, and got fruit, like blackberries, gooseberries, and strawberries from others in the area.  I’m so glad I grew up in a family where I could experience such a direct connection to food.

We left Austin at about 10am.  The farm is about one hour away from Austin.  The drive on FM 1431 was absolutely beautiful:

Here is our welcome to Sweet Berry Farm:

We picked up our boxes and headed out to start picking.  I was so happy to be there!  We had thought it was going to rain and thought about canceling.  I’m so glad we didn’t because it turned out to be the most beautiful day!

I ended up picking two boxes full, which turned out to be about 13 pounds!  I’d never had that much fruit at one time in my life.  The strawberry fields are beautiful.  Here area  few scenes:

The boxes looked deceptively small.  Without fully realizing how many berries I actually had, I went to pay for them to see if I could afford a second box.  The first box weighed over 7 pounds…whoa!  I bit the bullet and picked enough berries to almost fill a second box.  I figured, I can’t get strawberries like this year round.  Honestly, I wouldn’t want to.  Having great strawberries for a short period every year makes them all the more special.  So, after paying for the berries and having a lovely picnic, some of us headed to Flat Creek Estate, a winery on the way back to Austin.  It was beautiful!

After wine tasting, we drove the rest of the way back to Austin, and then I made jam.  I will write about that tomorrow.  I’d never made and canned my own jam before, and I realized that it is, in fact, not that difficult.  Until tomorrow, and The Strawberry Challenge, Part II.