Friday, April 29, 2011

Feliz Cinco de Mayo: A Mexican Celebration in the US

 … often misunderstood in America
Cinco de Mayo or the 5th of May is often misunderstood in America as Mexican Independence Day.  It is not.  Mexican Independence Day is a completely different event celebrated on September 16. The 5th of May commemorates the ragtag Mexican Army’s victory over the French in 1862 at the battle of Puebla.  Although the Mexican people still had to endure three more years of French occupation under the Emperor Maximilian, who was neither French nor Mexican, but actually Austrian.  The whole affair ended rather badly for Maximilian in front of a Mexican firing squad.    
… Fiesta grande
Throughout Mexico the holiday has a limited recognition and is really only celebrated regularly in the state of Puebla itself. It’s only in the US that the event has become widespread and a reason for a fiesta grande.  Many Americans (whether of Mexican Heritage or not) seem to have enthusiastically taken to this particular event.
… The largest celebration
“Mile High” Denver, Co. claims to host the largest celebration of its kind with some 400,000 celebrants expected this year (May 7/8).  Regardless of who actually throws the biggest party, many other US cities with significant Latin populations also host enormous events.  L.A., San Diego, Reno, Phoenix, and most cities in Texas all boast great celebrations.
We all love a good party…  
Cinco de Mayo is a time to celebrate Mexican culture in all its vibrant aspects. Festive gatherings will include bright colors, delicious food and fabulous dance presentations. Great Mariachis, Salsa, Norteno bands and other Latin American inspired music will be the norm. It is also an occasion for virtually every Mexican Restaurant in the country to decorate with cerveza ad décor and push specials on both food and drinks, and why not?  We all love a good party and market opportunities are marketing opportunities.  Cerveza and Margaritas top the list of beverage favorites, but Mojitos, Daiquiris, Sangria, Pina Coladas or any other drink name ending in a vowel will also be popular.
… The logical destination
My favorite Cinco de Mayo story happened in San Antonio at one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Mi Tierra.  Mi Tierra is a regular stop for both locals and tourists as it not only serves great comida but, stays open all night.  It is the logical destination for those that have been doing some serious imbibing, especially to enjoy a bowl of menudo.
Menudo is a hearty tripe soup and which has long been rumored to be a hangover cure.
… Very colorful “ladies”
A couple of friends and I had been partying in downtown San Antonio one Cinco de Mayo and around one or two AM it was decided that it was time for a trip to Mi Tierra (perhaps to try to prevent a hangover?).  Now, Mi Tierra is a spot where especially late at night, just about every level of society is represented.  My friends and I sat at a booth with the two across from me and with a table of very colorful “ladies” sitting behind me.
… She ducked, I didn’t
It was a festive occasion, people in a wonderful mood and tables full of bowls of menudo and other savory food.  Of course, the beer and tequila were freely flowing.  Just about the time the food arrived, another colorful “lady” passed by the table behind me.  As she passed, the person directly behind me made a most rude comment in Spanish.  Even with my limited Spanish, I understood that the comment referred negatively to the “lady’s” occupation, personal hygiene and even to her questionable parentage.  The passing “lady” wheeled around confronting the individual who had made the comment and then spouted her own stream of rather offensive opinions about the group at the table behind me.  The women who had been offended did not stop with the verbal attack and in fact grabbed the “lady’s” bowl of Menudo and tossed it at the woman’s face.  She ducked, I didn’t and I received the bowl on top of my head with the hot contents of the bowl running down my head, hair, and face, etc.
… A Latin fury that’s hard to describe without seeing it.
Before I could even react, the two protagonists ripped into each other with a Latin fury that’s hard to describe without seeing it. Officers of the law, who just happened to be on duty for just such an occasion grabbed and separated the screaming, scratching duo and escorted the entire party out of the restaurant. The manager of the restaurant appeared with clean towels and a complimentary beer with a shrug, a smile and a wink exclaiming, “So very sorry Senior, Cinco de Mayo, you know!”  Well no real harm was done and I had a Cinco de Mayo story that will last forever.      
… Bowls of flying Menudo!
 It is probably accurate to look at the American Cinco celebration sort of like what Americans have done with St. Patrick’s Day.  Not at all celebrated in Ireland like in the US, but like Americans so often do – we have made it our own.  You don’t have to be Irish or Mexican to have a good time.  I love Cinco de Mayo and I hope that you do too.  Just watch out for colorful “ladies” and bowls of flying Menudo! Check out our Cinco de Mayo menu and recipes

Buen Provecho Amigos!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

EASTER DINNER....Not much time to spend cooking and a chef’s thoughts turn to a quick lamb recipe!

Traditionally Easter dinner at our house always seems to feature a big succulent baked ham.  Last year we stuck to tradition with a fine country ham carefully prepared for our gathering of friends and family.  In fact, take a look at our blog from last Easter for some pointers on preparing and serving this unique regional specialty. We always seem to particularly enjoy ham but the menu is never set in stone. 

Therefore, so much for the typical tradition and memories.  This year I’m hungry for lamb!  Perhaps a rack of lamb or a roast leg of lamb?  “Butterflied” leg of lamb cooks quickly, carves easily and is really not that hard to bone and prepare.  Come to think of it, most butchers will prepare a rack or butterfly a leg for you at no extra charge.  The honest truth is that this year there will only be two of us with no time to spare and we need a much more simplified dish.

Hey, I know just the thing!  Braised Lamb Chops with Braised Aromatic Vegetables and Olives - Easy to purchase, prepare and enjoy.  We will serve this with fresh steamed asparagus and our wonderfully quick and delicious Avanti Savoia Asparagus Risotto fromCascina Belvedere.  A nice piece of cheese and fresh strawberries provide the dessert and we’re there!

Happy Easter and Bon Appetit Y’all!