The food of Summer: Coctél de Pulpo y Coco

 

Let me tell you one thing about living in the heat of Arizona. No, nothing about it being a ‘dry heat.’ Don’t even start with that. No. The thing about the special brand of Arizona heat is this: The human body very quickly forgets how to live with it.

Exposed skin starts to freak out as soon as sunlight touches it. Eyes and sinuses dry and quickly imitate a patch of parched earth. Ankle and finger joints swell and become stiff, which is fine since the skin has turned into sand paper and touching anything has become an unpleasant experience.

And don’t even think about eating anything hot. The thought of a steaming bowl of soup alone is enough to break you into an uncomfortable sweat, followed by the inmobility of a rattlesnake digesting a field mouse. Better to stick to the cold foods, to the tepache and cold brewed café. And seafoood. So much cold seafood.

Coctél de Pulpo y Coco

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

  • 1 fresh coconut
  • 2 to 3 pounds cooked octopus
  • 2 to 4 chile verde (Anaheim chiles)
  • 2 ears corn
  • Handful of green onions
  • Limes, as needed
  • Cilantro, parsley and mint, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste

Carefully cut the top off the coconut. Drain the water and chill. Scrape the meat off the inside of the shell and cut into 1/2″ pieces. Cut the octopus into 1/2″ pieces, mixing with the cut coconut meat in a non-reactive bowl. Add enough coconut water to cover, along with 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice. Cover and chill.

Roast the chile verde and ears of corn until lightly blackened. Allow the chile verde to rest while covered until cool enough to handle. Peel, remove the ribs and seeds, and cut into 1/4″ dice. Cut the corn grains away from the cob once cool enough to handle. Mix the chile and corn into the octopus and coconut.

Thinly slice the white and pale green pants of a handful of green onions. Roughly chop approximately equal parts cilantro and parsley, with only a small amount of fresh mint. Mix into the seafood, adding more coconut water and lime juice as necessary. Season with sea salt to taste.

Serve with tostadas and plenty of escabeche on the side.

A Quick Note: Accents and Tamales

Some of my least favorite things to be told by a complete stranger:

You don’t look Mexican.

You’re too tall to be Mexican.

You don’t sound Mexican.

Your accent is all wrong to be Mexican.

You’re not brown enough to be Mexican.

And so on.

This happens all the time. Living in upstate New York gave me a nice break from this for two and a half years. But even for being who doesn’t routinely engage strangers in conversation (that’s my polite way of saying I’m antisocial), I get this again, ALL THE TIME.

The need to quantify someone’s Mexicanidad or Mexican-ness is one of the Mexican peoples’ most annoying habit. I’m more Mexican than you because I’m browner, shorter, because my accent is thick and I end every sentence as if I’m asking a question even if I’m not. Or I’m more Mexican because I run all my words together in a real bronco norteño accent like I was born on the back of a horse at the family ranch.

This is all so incredibly stupid.

What I try to tell people is this:

Accents [or heights or skin tone or wheaver] are like tamales. Every family does theirs a little different. In my family we do beef in red chile with potatoes and carrots. And little olives in them. I try not to eat all the olives while making them. Your family maybe doesn’t like olives and maybe that’s why we sound different.

Oh, and yeah, we don’t have that born on the back of a horse norteño accent either. Actually I’m the only one that rides, and I’ve fallen off a few times. That probably messed up my accent too…

Alright, maybe I don’t say that. Maybe I just shrug and walk away because it’s not worth my time to bother.

But hey, that deep sarcastic streak, that’s pure Mexicanidad right there.

Speaking of tamales, if you’re in the Phoenix area, order up some tamales. Made by yours truly, no sarcastic streak included. Visit the Facebook shop to order. 

Tamales de Jamaica, Granada y Piloncillo

There’s been a journey of months and miles back across the country from the backwoods of upstate New York back to the traffic, car break ins, searing sunlight and heat of the Phoenix desert.

But I am glad for the move. Along with all the bad listed above comes the rich flavors of the city, the endless quantities of chiles, the gleaming bottles of hot sauce spanning the length of the grocery store aisle, the piles of tortillas stacking at the whirling end of the never still tortilla machine.

I am glad to be home.

Notes on the recipe:

Quite a few recipes on this blog use ingredients which are not typically found in an average chain grocery stoew. Living in an area with as much Mexican influence as Phoenix skewed my view of ingredient availability; two plus years in the very un-Mexican upstate New York corrected this.

Piloncillo can be closely substituted by weight with dark brown sugar, with the addition of a tablespoon of molasses to more closely reproduce the flavor of piloncillo. If the read thing is desired, the cones can be easily found online at Mexgrocer.

This recipe calls for masa de maÍz nixtamalizado, or a real fancy way of saying corn dough. I’ve developed a distaste for simply using the word masa to refer to it, as this only means dough. Is it corn or flour? Is it nixtamalizado or (god forbid) corn meal? Best to be specific.

This dough can be purchased at almost any tortillería and most Mexican grocery stores, if you’re lucky enough to have one near you. Ask for masa de maíz no preparada, meaning it should be nothing more than corn, lime (the mineral not the citrus) and just enough water to make the dough.

If you get any funny looks when buying it, tell them a blog made you do it.

jamaica_tamal

Tamales de Jamaica, Granada y Piloncillo

  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

For the wrapping:

  • 8 ounces dried corn husks

For the syrup:

  • 2 cups water
  • 1 piloncillo cone, approx. 8 oz / 240 g.
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1 1/2 cup jamaica flowers
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the dough:

  • 4 oz lard / 115 g, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup / 112 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 900 g / 2 lbs. masa de maÍz nixtamalizado

Separate the corn husks and rinse under warm running water until they begin to soften. Squeeze any excess water, and cover with boiling water, weighing down to maintain submerged. Soak until husks become very pliable and soft, changing the water as necessary.

Place the water and piloncillo cone in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for approximately 5 minutes. When the syrup starts to thicken, add the pomegranate seeds and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Pick of any stems from the jamaica flowers and tear any large flowers into smaller pieces. Rinse well under cold running water to remove any grit, and squeeze dry. Add to the pot, simmer very lightly for 10 minutes, and remove from heat. Add vanilla extract and allow to cool.

Cream the room temperature lard, granulated sugar and salt together until light and fluffy. Break up the masa de maÍz nixtamalizado
into golf ball sized chucks and add to the creamed lard while mixing, alternating with the cooled syrup, until evenly mixed.

Drain the corn husks, squeezing out any excess water. Place a corn husk on the non-dominant hand, pointing the body. Add 4 ounces, or a heaping ice cream scoop, of dough to the husk, spreading it on about 1/2 of the top half of the husk. Fold the husk to close it up, first horizontally, folding the filling over on itself, then by folding the tail under.

Stack finished tamales vertically leaning against each other before cooking. Prepare a deep stock pot for steaming by inserting a steaming basket or rack. In a pinch, loosely balled up aluminum foil works well. It is ideal to have about 2″ of space for water underneath the tamales. Place a layer of corn husks down, then stand the tamales inside, not too tightly, covering with another layer of corn husks. Leave enough of a gap in the pot so water may be addd to it without pouring directly on a tamal. Add hot water to the pot, without touching the bottom of the tamales.

Place over medium heat, and cook for approximately 40 to 50 minutes, or until the tamales firm up but still yield when pressed. Remove from heat, placing tamales flat on a baking sheet.

Road Trip: Quintana Roo and Yucatan, Part 2

Cobá and Cenote Choo-Ha, Quintana Roo

Spending the night at Cobá isn’t necessary for visiting the ruins, as the town is only a short drive away from Valladolid and from Tulum, but once I read the words ‘spider monkeys on the grounds,’ I couldn’t pass up spending the night at Hacienda Cobá.

 

 

The property is small, with only 12 rooms or so, on a manicured jungle property. It is full of song birds, metallic blue butterflies, lizards of all sizes, and at 2 a.m., the chattering of spider monkeys.  The rooms are elegantly simple and very comfortable, and while there’s not much around the property, it is only a 5 minute drive away from the Zona Arqueológica Cobá.

Let me say it again about visiting an archeological site, GET THERE EARLY and bring mosquito repellent. This is a large site spread out throughout dense jungle, and the walk to cover all the ruins is a few miles; there are bikes for rent, including child size, and rickshaws for hire.

 

Visitors are still allowed to climb Nohoch Mul, a rise of 120 steps to get an arial view of the jungle top. Avoid the shiny worn down side of the steps, and frankly I’m not sure the rope helps much. If in doubt, go down sitting, one steep step at a time.

The site has two restored ball courts, tiny in comparison to the vast size of the court at Chichén Itzá, and extensive carvings protected under shelters. The jungle itself is of great interest here, with a multitude of colorful birds swooping by, those electric blue butterflies, and large beehives seeming to grow out of tree trunks.

With the town of Cobá being small, dining choices are small, and frankly, that is sometimes such a good thing. We stopped at the open air Chile Picante, where the seafood soup is as good as I’ve ever had. Unfortunately I lack photos of this meal, and many of the other meals mentioned on this trip. Frankly, I’m not so dedicated in food photo taking like to keep up with it while dealing with a very active toddler and a lot of restaurant meals.

Not far from town is a trio of cenotes, Choo-Ha, Tankach-Ha and Multum-Ha, operated by a Mayan cooperative. Of these, we only visited Choo-Ha, a shallow cavern cenote, recommended for those with small children. While it wasn’t the best smelling cenote we visited – a combination of bat droppings, enclosed mold and dampness – the experience of floating alone in a still and dark underground swimming hole was extraordinary. The cave is sufficiently lit for safety, but not so bright as to ruin the underground experience. Be aware the water is very cold, and the occasional bat does make an appearance.

 

The other two cenotes are open to above, though Tankach-Ha less so. Each cenote has changing rooms and showers, to make sure any sunscreen and insect repellent is washed off before entering. Entrance fee to each cenote is $60. I am not certain, but I do not believe life-preservers are available.

Aldea Ahau Chooc, Quintana Roo

If my memory serves me right, on the same road leading to the cenotes, we stopped at Ahau Chooc, a Mayan village with a sign clearly welcoming visitors. Seeing Mayan villages in this area is not rare. Being welcome into one is.

As soon as we parked outside the village two boys ran up to the car to greet us.

Me: Hola.

Boys: Hola.

Me: Que onda?

Boys: Naaaaaada. Quieren entrar a la aldea?

Me: Si. Tienen algún sitio donde podríamos comer?

Boys: Si. Tenemos comida que pueden probar, y enseñarles plantas medicinales, y… es que… tenemos que preservar nuestra manera de vida, para el futuro…

From that point, one of the men of the village took over as tour guide, showing us indeed medicinal plants that grew in the area – milky liquid extracted from leave stems to clean teeth, a pair of trees related trees, one burning the skin, the other healing it, chicle trees, etc – and how they live in small flexible palapas adapted to withstand hurricanes.

One such palapa was filled with artifacts from the village, the oldest of which going back some 200 years. Everything was an object of every day life – different types of metates for grinding corn and herbs, wash basins, large ceramic containers for water, farming tools – but the villages valued this connection to the past enough to display them for themselves, rather than donating them to a museum. ‘If we give them to a museum, we have to pay to see them,’ the man said. ‘Here, they are part of our lives.’

What looked like a rough shelter made of short lengths of logs with a flat roof turned out to be an apiary, housing 7 types of bees native to the American continent, as well as European honey bees. Many non-academenic sources will cite the bee as being an European contribution during the Columbian Exchange. This is true when it comes to Apis mellifera, not when it comes to the stingless Meliponines cultivated for thousands of years by Maya people. Not every type of bee in this tribe produces honey, and certainly not in the abundance of the European honey bee. The honey is used as a sweetener and as a base for fermented beverages, but it plays are more important role in medicine. One of these bees produces a fragrant black wax, used for candles to light the village, which does not have electricity.

We were then taken to the community kitchen, where a group of women were seated at a low table around a large bowl of freshly made masa. Each would scoop out a portion, each portion the same as the previous, the same as the woman’s on either side. Then in swift motions, the portion would be pressed with the fingers of one hand, while the other hand, cupped around the edges, would turn the plastic sheet the masa was pressed against. I had never seen this method of pressing tortillas in person. It does not look easy, and it is not easy. My rather sad attempt rendered a tortilla that was round, but looked as if a savage beast had already taken a bite off of it.

The tortillas were thick and soft, meant to scoop food with. We ate them with a spread of toasted pumpkin seeds and roasted tomato, and scrambled egg with chaya, a type of spinach. I also ate several of those soft tortillas alone.

Our guide was the only man in the village at the time. He explained 6 families live there, but the other men were at the milpa, the farm. The embroidery and weaving work of the women was proudly displayed, and available for purchase, and this is a better place than most to buy a hand made hammock.

Entrance to the village is free, and all are welcome, but they do ask for donations in return for opening their doors.

Tulum, Quintana Roo

Tulum is the newest star of Mexican tourism. Chances are someone on your Instagram or Facebook feed has visited recently and professed their undying love for the area. Well fine, the area is worth loving in every way. The heat isn’t so bad, the breeze is soft and constant, the sea warm and calm, and the seafood is cheap and plentiful.

Tulum is where the contrast between locals and tourist is most clearly evident. billboards advertising new ‘ecological’ condos and resorts featuring smiling tanned golden haired men and women push up against neighborhoods of small tin homes, mostly lacking doors and windows, round black water tanks sit next to the shacks. The neighborhoods were often fenced off, signs reading ‘Propiedad Privada’ attached to it. Meaning, these are private homes, this land is not for gringos. The land with the new overpriced beachfront ‘eco’ hotels, that’s where gringos need to go. You get to call a hotel ecologically minded if there’s nothing separating you from the lizards and mosquitoes but some netting.

There are three types of accommodations in Tulum. These new fangled Instagram ready eco-chic #vacationgoals hotels, campgrounds, and hostels. I’m old-fashioned, I like walls, and a lot of those hostels have private rooms.

With this in mind we stayed at El Jardín de Frida, in the María Félix suite, for approximately $55 a night, getting solid walls, a kitchenette and breakfast included. During our visit, it consisted of whole wheat crepes served with fruit preserves and two different banana spreads. The first with cardamom, and the second with chocolate and fresh coconut. Banana mush is usually not appetizing to anyone over the age of 1, but trust me, I would happily steal it from a baby.

I don’t need to say to get to the archeological zone in Tulum early. You know this already. What I will say is this. There’s a small tractor pulled train which can take you to from the parking lot uphill to the entrance. Take the train. It’s MEX$30, or about $1.60. Don’t be the sweaty tourist grumbling about it being a rip off while huffing and puffing. If the low cost doesn’t sell you on taking the train, then think of it this way. If you walk, you’re on the same narrow road as the tractor train, being squeezed to the side and getting a mouthful of fumes. TAKE THE TRAIN.

Tulum was never a large city center during pre-Columbian times, serving more as a religious center and trading post. Built on high ground, the site overlooks the impossibly blue Caribbean, and was walled off from three sides. Beach access at the ruins has been closed off for at least a year, due to high tides and unusually high numbers of jellyfish in that area.

The city seems to have been dedicated to the Descending God, an upside down figure associated with the setting sun and bees, a motif appearing on several structures. Other prominent buildings served more as navigational aids, and to track the movement of the sun.

tulum_danza_voladores

Tulum is one of the sites throughout Mexico in which the Danza de los Voladores is performed as a way to promote awareness of the tradition of the UNESCO recognized intangible cultural heritage. For those not familiar with the ceremony, 4 to 6 men, dressed in red and white, and as bird like in appearance as man can get, climb a 30 meter pole, and slowly and meditatively descend in a graceful spiral, head first, holding on with nothing but their legs. This is a huge simplification of a beautiful ceremony, of course, thought to have originated in Veracruz, on the Gulf of Mexico.

The beach at the ruins may not be swimmable, but further south in the hotel zone the beach is the same shade of blue, calm, though not terribly accessible. While all beaches in Mexico are free to the public by law, it doesn’t mean hotels can’t make access to them difficult. Public beaches in Cancun are very well-developed, with clean restrooms, changing rooms and at least some parking. Tulum may be a very old city, having been settled in the 6th century AD, but in terms of beach resort town, it is still a baby. With the beachfront as crowded by resorts as it is now, those public amenities are unlikely to pop up now.

If you’re willing to forgo the convenience of free public bathrooms, the beaches in Tulum are beautiful, with a young crowd, making with excellent people watching. And good luck finding a parking spot.

For a much mellower beach experience, we headed to the nature preserve Xcacel-Xcacelito, less than a half hour drive north of town. Lacking in all services except for bathrooms and showers, this area doesn’t see many human visitors, but the two coves in the park are turtle nesting grounds and are therefore protected from development. The humans who do venture here – not many, if at all any, Americans – will find a very nice ground level cenote and a gorgeous beach they can have almost to themselves.

As this is a wildlife sanctuary, donations are requested at the entrance, and life-preservers for use at the cenote are available free of charge. The park closes at 4, and is monitored by a life guard.

Back in town, almost everything is on Avenida Tulum. The souvenir shops are surprisingly pleasant, and the displayed hammocks are never more enticing than when swaying in the seabreeze. But there’s also seafood, and that is far more enticing than a hammock.

For mounds of ceviche, the very busy El Camello Jr seems to be the only place for the locals. It’s busy, tables packed as tightly as possible, with the sea breeze not quite cooling off this open air family restaurant. It isn’t fine dining, and it’s not supposed to be. This is one of the many differences in perspective between Americans and Mexicans. Americans hear the words seafood restaurant and think ‘fancy tablecloth joint with lobster and crab legs’ or in the other extreme ‘crapshack of the side of the road with good cheap tacos.’ Americans are all about subtlety. Mexicans hear seafood restaurant and think ‘yeah, the seafood here is good, let’s get everyone together and go have some! Ceviche tostadas for everyone!’ Or something very similar. Take my word for it, it’s true.

The service is chaotic, but the ceviche is fresh, tart, and not too spicy. The only flaw in the meal was the michelada and it not quite being the michelada I was expecting. A michelada is normally a tall cold drink of tomato juice or Clamato, spiced with hot sauce, Worcestershire, lime juice, chile powder, salt, and soy sauce if you’re really feeling the need for overkill, mixed with a Mexican lager. In this part of the Mexico, that is called a Rojo Ojo, or red eye. The michelada here was a mix of lime juice, Worcestershire, salt and chile powder, served with a Tecate roja. Strangely enough, the mix almost tasted like a Coke with lime. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t knock my socks off either.

Tecate roja, by the way, is what you ask for if you won’t want a Tecate Light, or Tecate Titanium. These do not exist in my reality.

 

tulum_don_cafeto_escabeche
The escabeche at Don Cafeto.

Don Cafeto is praised for the quality of the breakfast, but their bowls of glistening escabeche don’t make an appearance that early in the day. It’s impossible to resist the thick large slices of carrots, onions, whole jalapeños and habaneros. This bowl gives you a warning: the food here tends towards the spicy. If you’re like me and share everything you eat with a toddler, it’s good to get that warning, even if it means you’re skipping the seafood soup and opting for chicken soup and ensalada de nopales instead.

Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo

Are you snorkeling? Taking the ferry to Cozumel? Are you crazy and love tourist traps of the worst possible kind? If you answered no to all three of these questions, skip ahead to Puerto Morelos. If you didn’t, I can’t help you. Our time here was exactly one hour, long enough to visit Plaza de los Fundadores, find it closed off for a TV taping, and enjoy the breeze and view at the pier.

 

Puerto Morelos was a disappointment only in that the bookstore I had been looking forward to visiting, Alma Libre Books and Gifts, was closed for the summer. Dissapointment is easy drowned with seafood soup and smoked fish tostadas at Merkadio del Mar. Don’t forget the deliciously tart carbonated limonada. This place is about as perfect as a beach seafood restaurant gets, with not just a view of the sea, but a few steps from white sand and torquoise water. Rounding out the perfect scene, for an extra MEX$50 during lunch, and we enjoyed a seranade.

It’s worth taking the time to visit the Faro Inclinado, the Parroquia San José Obreo and taking a walk through the artisan zone on Av Javier Rojo Gomez.

Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo

Isla Mujeres would be a tranquil island paradise were it not for the swarms of scooters, golf carts, bicycles and tiny cars buzzing every square in of road on this long thin island. As it is, it is beautiful, but for tranquil, stare at the waveless blue-green sea at Playa Norte and stay off the roads.

Considered one of the top ten beaches in the world, it is known for its calmness, and the shallowness of the water, being able to walk out some 30 meters and still have the water level chest high. When you’re a beach and you’re popular, you get crowded, and here is no exception. The narrow stretch of white sand is packed with palapas for rent, well worth it if you’re spending the day here, but not so much if only passing by. There’s a good stretch of public access beach north of Tarzan Beach Club.

Two thirds of the way down the island is the government operated Tortugranja, or Turtle Farm. As the name implies, this is a turtle breeding facility, rather than a full aquarium, with a focus on restoring turtle populations in the area. The exhibits are therefore minimal, and the staff here is busy taking care of the turtles, rather than entertaining visitors. During hatching season, visitors can help release baby turtles into the sea. The rest of the year, get a kick out of feeding the turtles and watching them chomp at the water.

tortugranja
A resident of the Tortugranja, Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo.

Admission to the farm and a bag of turtle feed are MEX$30 each. At the time of our visit, the Tortugranja was also home to a rescued injured dolphin, which is unfortunately a frequent occurrence.

Cancún (again), Quintana Roo

There’s a few things worth doing in Cancún besides frying on the beach. Mercado 23 is the city’s favorite  one-stop-shop for anything. Produce, meats, spices, seafood, party supplies, candy, piñatas, voodoo dolls, herbal remedies, huipiles of all sizes, guayaberas, toy size versions of Mexican kitchen utensils, and endless food options. Prices here are extremely reasonable, everyone is open to haggling, and Spanish is a must. This is a locals market, with few tourists around. For the tourist experience, head over to Mercado 28. I skipped it, and can’t help you there.

The midday hours in Cancún can be brutally hot, and the Interactive Aquarium Cancún, inside La Isla Shopping Center, is air-conditioned. The aquarium is bigger than it first appears, and offers the opportunity to get handsy with starfish and sea cucumbers, and watch awkward interactions between people with too much money and dolphins needing a fishy snack. All in all, a good time.

If you don’t scuba or snorkle, and the idea of being trapped in a glass bottom boat for 2 hours with your toddler, but really want to get a look at some of MUSA’s statues, visit the replicas displayed across the street from Playa Langosta on Boulevard Kukulcan.

And as we said goodbye to Cancún and the Yucatán, the airport brought us one more good giggle, at the sight of a Guy Fieri restaurant, complete with a guacamole station in the dining room.

Road Trip: Quintana Roo and Yucatan, Part 1

I went to Cancún so you don’t have to.

Well, no. Go to Cancún for the nice warm beach. Have a cocktail or two in a hollowed out pineapple.

Then spend the rest of your time cruising around Quintana Roo and Yucatán.

We (2 adults and a child just shy of 2 years old) visited the region from late May to early June, the very beginning of the low tourist season. Also known as the beginning of the relentless oppressive muggy tropical heat. Given the choice, I will always pick bad weather over tourist hoards. The exchange rate at the time of our visit was $1 to MEX$19.

This is part 1.

Read more

Paletas de Pinole y Chocolate

These paletas exist somewhere between comforting cold weather food and icy refreshing summer treat. Just sweet enough, the pinole granules are mellowed by the richness of chocolate.

These particular paletas were made with Rancho Gordo’s Pinole Azul, but you can also easily make your own.

Paletas de Pinole y Chocolate

  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk, cold
  • 2 tbsp pinole
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/3 c granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2″ piece of Mexican cinnamon
  • 2 ounces baking chocolate (100% cacao), in pieces
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Pour the milk into a small saucepan and whisk in the pinole until smooth, resting for a few minutes to allow the pinole to rehydrate. Bring the milk to a simmer and whisk in the cocoa powder. Add the granulated sugar, salt and cinnamon.

Cook at a low simmer, stirring regularly, until the begins to thicken slightly. Have a bowl ready with the baking chocolate pieces and vanilla extract, with a mesh strainer above it. Pour the mixture through the strainer, pushing with the back of a spoon as necessary. Whisk vigorously to melt the chocolate.

Refrigerate, stirring regularly to speed up the cooling process.

Once completely cooled, pour into popsicle molds and freeze.

April 30th: Children’s Day

You would think the final days of April would bring mentions all over Mexico of the approaching Cinco de Mayo celebrations. And you would think wrong.

For the most part, there aren’t many celebrations for the 5th of May. It isn’t a national holiday, and unless you’re in Puebla, is my not be mentioned as a thing at all – but this is an old story.

What you may find being eagerly anticipated is April 30th, El Día de los Niños, Children’s Day.

This holiday originated in 1925, as a result of the World Conference for the first World Conference for the Well Being of Children, held in Geneva on the same year. Many countries adopted a day in which to celebrate the happiness and well-being of children with special activities, gifts and toys.

A treat of this day both my Dad and maternal Grandmother have spoken of is of receiving a melon half filled with vanilla ice cream at their schools. It’s a strange combination at first, but after a few bites, the flavors meld together to be sweet, creamy and refreshing all at once.

In the United States, April 30th has been adopted as Día de los Niños, Día de los Libros, thanks to the efforts of children’s book author Pat Mora, whose book La Señora de la Panadería I dearly love. The day is meant to promote literacy for children of all backgrounds.

The following recipe for vanilla ice cream is heavily adapted from the go to man for all things ice cream, David Lebovitz. As he points out, something needs to be done with all those left over egg whites. One of his recommended recipes is this light and airy cake.

melon_icecream
Vanilla ice cream with melon, a Mexican Día de los Niños treat.

 

Vanilla Ice Cream

  • 500 ml (2 cups) heavy cream
  • 250 ml (1 cup) whole milk
  • 150 g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

 

Place 1 cup of heavy cream, the milk, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cut the vanilla mean in half length wise, scrape the beans into the pot, and add the pot. Bring to a simmer, cover, remove from heat and allow to infuse for an hour.

Reheat the vanilla cream over low heat and place a stainless steel or glass bowl in the freezer to chill. In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by slowly pouring approximately 1/2 cup of the warm cream, whisking continuously while doing so. Add the yolk mixture to the pot, whisking continuously.

Cook over low heat, whisking continuously, until the mixture thickens enough to show ribbons from the whisk wires. If desired, use a double boiler.

Remove the bowl from the freezer, add the remaining cream and vanilla extract, placing a fine mesh strainer over it. Pour the custard through, lightly whisking to push it past the mesh. Mix well to combine. Place in the refrigerator and allow to cool completely, a minimum of 2 hours, or up to overnight. Stirring regularly will accelerate the process.

Run through an ice cream maker following manufacturer’s recommendations.