Recently, a woman at the grocery store was handing out samples of mango frozen yogurt. “It’s spiced like mango lassi,” she said. And indeed, the frozen yogurt was cool and refreshing with a whisper of something unusual and sweet. It was perfect for a summer day.
Now, some people might not realize this but Indian food is quite popular in Texas. As a matter of fact, the first time I had a mango lassi was when I lived in Austin. Occasionally, my friends and I would treat ourselves to an Indian buffet, which was expensive but delicious. While we never went beyond the basic meal, one day a friend decided to splurge and also ordered a creamy drink made with yogurt, cardamom, and pureed mangos. “This is mango lassi,” he said while handing the glass around the table so we could take a sip. It was cool and refreshing, perfect for a summer day.
At the time, I was working at a children’s bookstore called Toad Hall. On the shelves were the usual array of picture books, early readers, and young adult novels. One of the owners, however, wanted to keep things interesting so she also stocked some of her favorite books, an eclectic collection that included mysteries, literary non-fiction, and cookbooks.
One day, an Indian cookbook called From Bengal to Punjab by Smita Chandra arrived. Since I loved Indian food, I thought it would be fun to try making it at home. I bought the book and began cooking my way through it making saag paneer, various curries, and other Indian treats.
Thursday, June 09, 2016
Thursday, May 19, 2016
These past few weeks, I had the opportunity to go to Texas on two trips. Between the bluebonnets and the severe storms, the season can be extreme but it’s still my favorite time to visit the state. There’s nothing like Texas in the spring.
My first visit order of business was a conference in Austin, but after I landed I decided to drive to North Texas to see my Grandma on a quick visit before I had to get busy. She told me that the bluebonnets we’d planted in the fall were in full bloom and indeed they were. It was a fine beginning.
The next day I headed back to Austin to join my fellow Texas food lovers at the annual Foodways Texas Symposium. This year’s theme was gender, so there were talks about community cookbooks, Helen Corbitt, the Chili Queens, and the Czech women who make kolaches, among other things. All of the meals were good, as you would expect at a food conference, but my favorite plate was probably the smothered pork chop served by Hoover Alexander of Hoover’s in Austin.
After the conference, I spent a few more days in the Austin area visiting friends. Some of our shared dinners were home cooked and I was so busy catching up that I forgot to take photos, but I did manage to squeeze in a few extra meals. My first one was at La Mancha. After a few days in Texas, I decided I needed some vegetables so I ordered two quesos, one with spinach and one loaded with avocados and pickled red onions.
When you’re in Texas, breakfast tacos are a must and I always love the ones at Veracruz All Natural in Austin. The make their own tortillas and their fillings are always fresh.
Thursday, May 05, 2016
It's the time of year when folks celebrate Cinco de Mayo, that popular holiday where much Mexican food is washed down with cerveza and tequila. But even though the day commemorates a Mexican victory, it has become more of a North-of-the-border fiesta with not as much attention paid to it in its native land.
Cinco de Mayo is often mistaken as Mexican Independence Day, but that happens later in the calendar on September 16. Instead, this event marks the Mexicans’ incredible triumph (lead by the Texas-born Commanding General Ignacio Seguin Zaragoza) over the French in The Battle of Puebla (where the Mexicans were outnumbered almost two to one) on, of course, May 5, 1862.
While the French continued their attempt to take over Mexico for a few more years, this accomplishment not only boosted the Mexicans’ morale but was also a key factor in thwarting Napoleon III’s attempt to aid the Confederate states in the American Civil War. In the early 1900’s, Mexican immigrants to the United States brought the celebration with them and in the 1960’s it grew in popularity as a day to honor ethnic pride. And for good reason, as the day has long symbolized the strength of the Mexican spirit.
Today, however, much of that original sentiment is lost behind the marketing. Sadly, it’s been demoted to just an excuse to sell more beer, tequila, and tortilla chips. You don’t even have to be of Mexican descent to join in the hype. In my neighborhood, for instance, the Irish pubs are also touting the day with signs and specials, and I noticed that even a French restaurant is having a Cinco de Mayo celebration. (Clearly, they either have an excellent sense of humor or have no idea what the day really means.)
You’ll hear of people traveling to, say, San Antonio for Cinco de Mayo festivities, but rarely do you hear of anyone going to Mexico to celebrate the day. Why is this? Probably because in most of the country, they’re about as excited about Cinco de Mayo as we are about President’s Day. It’s not even a federal holiday there. My friends in Mexico City shrug at the mention of it; it’s just no big deal.