I’m grateful for so many things this year.
We saw a little bit more of the world. We had lively conversations with good friends and stared out at gorgeous vistas and sipped excellent wine. (And excellent mezcal.) I got to come back to a city that I love like no place else — fetid air, crushing traffic, raw chicken vendors who hoot at me and all — and I got to learn and share everything I know about Mexican food, a job that I still cannot believe is mine.
My family, thankfully, stayed healthy, and my husband did not complain when I had to work weekends, on vacation, or until 9 p.m. on a weeknight. (Thank you honey, and I promise not to make you visit any more markets if you don’t want to.) I’m also thankful for the vendors who said hi to me when I was walking down the street, and for the stoic tlacoyo lady who prepared her last tlacoyo of the day for me, for free — “Un regalo de navidad,” she said. I’m thankful for the roof over our head and the abundance of food in our lives.
I really don’t know how I ended up with this life, but I am so glad it’s mine.
Here are some of my favorite food moments of the year:
1. The Tamales Course at Fundación Herdez. This four-day course was probably the best cooking class I’ve ever taken in Mexico City. The instructor gave an exhausting overview of tamales from prehispanic times to the present, and we supplemented our knowledge with a trip to the Botanic Garden at UNAM.
2. Judging a small-town tamale fair. We arrived to Tetepango, Hidalgo thinking we’d peruse the tamales and atoles and that would be that. Instead we ended up judging more than 100 homemade tamales and atoles, in flavors like cajeta con whisky and bean maguey-worm. It was a blast.
3. Making homemade tortillas at the Escuela de Gastronomía Mexicana. This was my second-favorite cooking class of the year. We made tortillas with guajillo chiles, and tortillas embedded with quelites. Mine inflated (ya me puedo casar), and I realized that a huge part of making good tortillas is a hot comal. I’m blaming my non-inflated tortilla failures at home on my stupid electric stove.
4. Visiting the farmers of Xochimilco. I’d heard of De La Chinampa, a group that supplies organic, locally grown produce to restaurants and local residents in Mexico City. In March, I finally had a chance to see the chinampas up close during a trip with Ricardo Rodriguez, the organization’s director. We met a farmer, who explained his farming practices to us; then we floated around the most tranquil part of Xochimilco that I’ve seen.
5. Touring Queens with Madhur Jaffrey. In April, I was one of the few lucky ones who got to take an Indian food tour of Queens with Madhur Jaffrey, part of an event with the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Ms. Jaffrey was gracious and kind, and she taught us the history and preparation of every food we tried. This ranks in my top food experiences ever.
6. Puebla’s International Mole Festival. In May I tasted some of the best foods in the state of Puebla — moles, molotes, tlayoyos and more — and listened to Rick Bayless, Marcela Valladolid, Mark Bittman and others share their personal experiences with mole and Mexican food. Completely worth the journey there and back, and I’m already looking forward to the festival again next year.
7.The joy of Oaxacan tamales. I thought I had tasted tamales before I went to Oaxaca. Let’s be clear: I had not tasted tamales. These tamales have ruined me on all other tamales, now and into the future. Every time I make tamales, I know they will not be as good as the Oaxacan ones, and that is the cross I have to bear.
8. Burning a tortilla on an outdoor stove, for homemade mole. During the same June trip to Oaxaca, I took a cooking class with Susana Trilling. I volunteered to make the chichilo mole (no one else wanted to do it), which entailed burning a whole tortilla on the clay comal and then adding the ash to the stew. Can I tell you how fun this was?
9. Roast suckling pig in Mealhada, Portugal. When we were in Portugal in July, Crayton insisted (yes, Crayton!) on taking a side trip to Mealhada, also known as roast suckling pig central. We got lost on the way there, so we had to pull over and ask for directions in Crayton’s Brazilian-style Portuguese. Eventually we found Pedro Dos Leitoes, a huge restaurant with skewers of pigs roasting in the front lobby. We gobbled down an entire lechón with the crispest skin, plus potato chips, salad, bread, olives and dry, fizzy white wine.
10. A long weekend in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz. So what if the city is feíto? The food is fantastic, and I’d love to go back. I had the best time touring the markets with my friend Janneth and her mom, Martha. We stopped at little restaurants and I helped make homemade tamales de masa colada.
11. A food tour of Tijuana. I’m going to write about this soon — hey, it barely happened in October (wince) — but Crayton and I had the pleasure of taking a food tour with Bill Esparza, a blogger and Mexican food expert who lives in LA. Of the places he showed us, my favorite was Mariscos Ruben. The goopy, creamy taco de marlin still lives on in my dreams.
12. My first homemade chile en nogada. In hopes of channeling the 19th-century Poblana nuns who invented this dish, I went to Puebla to buy my ingredients and I peeled walnuts for six hours. When it came time to fry the chiles, curls of smoke wafted out of my kitchen and floated over my guests’ heads. In the end — the chile was spectacular.
I forgot one more thing that I’m thankful for: you reading this blog, and commenting (or not), and generally making The Mija Chronicles a lovely place to be. I wish you a wonderful New Year, and hope you get a few moments of reflection before all the craziness begins.
Un abrazote a todos!