Monday, June 1, 2009

Fiesta of Love

Never attend a dry wedding. That has always been a rule of thumb for me, but last weekend we made an exception. Chef, Lil' Bit, and I had the honor of watching Rolo, our first employee and the backbone of 29 South walk his oldest daughter down the aisle. I have never attended a Mexican wedding, and it was definitely a cultural experience.

The wedding took place in a small church, which was once was a building that housed a thrift shop and book store. The congregation remodeled the inside and turned it into a little sanctuary for the Hispanic community here on the island. There were two murals of Jesus inside the Church, one of Christ bleeding on the Cross looking understandably miserable, and the other...well the other was unexpected. Painted on a closed door was an airbrushed mural of a gringo in jeans and a t-shirt with a swarthy Jesus behind him. The gringo seemed to be sick and exhausted, collapsed in the slender arms of the dark mysterious Christ
. A gold door knob jutted out Jesus's robe. I tried to imagine what was behind that closed door...a confession area perhaps, a tunnel, or maybe it was just a broom closet.

The church was festively decorated with white balloons and lace ribbon. The invitations said the ceremony was to begin at 4 pm, which really meant 5 pm in
fiesta time. Before the service started, a man with a mouth full of metal came into the church and laid a piece of white lace fabric down the aisle for the bride to walk on. Then the the ceremony began. Each member of the wedding party, all 15 of them, were introduced by name as they walked down the aisle, beginning with the groom, Mauricio. Then the bride entered. Patricia was beautiful in a white sparkling dress, her thick black hair tucked behind a long white veil. Rolo was beaming.

As the ceremony progressed, Lil' Bit grew squirrely
. I made the mistake of not bringing the diaper bag into the church, and my bracelet and watch only entertained her for so long. She and I stepped outside for the rest of the service, which was fine because my understanding of Spanish is limited. After it was over, Chef stepped outside and reported that the siblings of the betrothed lassoed the bride and groom with a white rope. I was bummed that I missed the wrangling, but it was okay because we got to check out the white convertible 1963 Lincoln Continental complete with suicide doors that the bride and groom arrived in. Pat,the car's owner, told Chef that a cat gave birth on the backseat of the car a week before. Lil' Bit and I peaked in and saw no trace of feline afterbirth on the white leather bench seat.

The reception was held at the Peck Community Center. Across the street from the building was a small gray house that had a dirt yard where a big red pit bull with a spiked leather collar and a little dingy white
Chihuahua frolicked chained to their respected posts. We walked into the reception and was greeted by fantastically loud Latin music. It was so loud it was like being in the back of a sixteen year old's low rider cruising the loop on a Friday night. 

Rolo welcomed us with big hugs before ushering us past the food. There was a huge platter of tostadas, and smaller one of taco shells. Simmering in silver chafing dishes was barbacoa, Mexican Spaghetti, pork chops in pasilla chili sauce, and chicken stuffed with eggs, potatoes and peas. The next table held dishes of fruit, flan, salad, and guacamole...phenomenal guacamole.

But there was one thing missing. Salsa. Not even a little dish of Pico. Salsa is my favorite dip of all time. I really think of it as more of a condiment than a dip. All day long I fantasized about what type of salsa would be at this event. Would it be red or green, or maybe both? Hot or mild? Would it be homemade or perhaps purchased from the local tienda? I looked at Chef and said in disbelief, "There is no salsa?" He said in a somewhat condescending voice, "No, honey. Not all Mexican meals include salsa." Look, I have been to Mexico, stayed with a family at hacienda for 2 weeks...and there was always a little pico on the table. Whatever. We sat down a table with Megan and Tim, and Pat and Fran. We had established the gringo table. Conversation was basically impossible because of the blaring music. After every song the lead singer would yell, "Halleiluja!"

We all sat there smiling at one and other, bopping our heads, trying to get into the Latin groove. Chef turned to me and whispered in my ear, "The lead singer has only one eyebrow." It was true, the front man for the band was singing a way, playing his accordian, looking out on the party with only one dark eyebrow. I had not noticed it up until then, but once Chef pointed it out it was all I could think about. Why did this man only have one eyebrow? Did someone play a joke on him while he was sleeping...or did he loose it in a fire? The missing eyebrow haunted me the rest of the reception.

The food was delicious, and we had a rainbow of Fanta to choose from as our beverage. I settled on Orange, Chef on Strawberry. Each glass had one tiny ice cube floating in it. Like all soft drinks, Fanta is chock full of sodium. Without a lot of ice, you might as well be drinking flavored salt. After two glasses of the vibrant drink,  I started sneaking sips of water from Lil' Bit's safety cup. 

Mexican food is one of my favorite cuisines, and even without the salsa I went back for thirds. Lil' Bit really enjoyed the Mexican spaghetti, and I thought the stuffed chicken heaped with guacamole was wonderful. It was a great party, and as we were leaving it really made me thing about how those of us born and raised here take opportunity for granted. Rolo came here seven years ago with nothing, and through amazingly hard work he has made his way. This party was a testimony of his success.

Having a baby has its perks when it comes to making a graceful exit. The reception started at 6 pm and was scheduled to last until 10. After watching a game of musical chairs performed by all the single women at the wedding, we decided to go before the bachelors took their turn. Sobriety was taking its toll on us, and Lil' Bit was getting sleepy so we said our goodbyes, and congratulations and left....Halleiluja!

Good Life Recipe # 3 Uruguyan Style Flan /Chef Scott Schwartz, 29 South
*At the wedding there was quite a few Uruguayns, one of which made a wonderful flan. Chef modified this recipe from an old Uruguan recipe. He grew up spending a lot of time in Argentina and this is how he remembers it.

  • 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk (you can use 1/2 cup of milk and 1 cup evaporated milk for a very rich flan if you prefer)
  • Put oven rack in the middle position and preheat to 350 degrees. Place a kitchen towel in the bottom of a large baking dish or roasting pan and place a 9 inch cake pan in center.
  • Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce to a simmer and cook, gently swirling the pan occassionally, until the mixture has carmalized to a nice chestnut color, 7 to 10 minutes.
  • Slowly pour the carmamel into the cake pan, being careful not to splash caramel onto yourself or outside of the cake pan. Let cool slightly until it hardens.
  • Bring a kettle or large saucepan of water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks together in a medium bowl until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Whisk in the lemon zest, sweetened condensed milk, and low-fat milk.
  • Pour the mixture into the cake pan, and gently place the roasting pan on the oven rack. Being careful not to spill water inside the pan of custard, pour the boiling water into the roasting pan until the water reaches halfway up the side of the cake pan. This is called a Bain Marie
  • Bake until the center of the custard is just barely set, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 170 to 175 degrees, 30 to 40 minutes. (start checking the temperature after 25 minutes)
  • Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and carefully transfer the cake pan to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Wrap the cake pan with plastic wrap and refridgerate until completely chilled. At least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
  • Run a knife around the cake pan to loosen the custard. Invert a large serving platter over the top of the cake pan. Grasp both the cake pan and platter and gently flip the custard onto the platter, drizzling any extra caramel sauce over the top. Serve immediately with Dulce de leche
Easy Dulce de Leche

  • 2 cans of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 - 1 cup to of milk to thin out the mix
  • Fill a large stock pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop the cans of milk into the water and cover the pot. Boil the cans for 3 hours, checking every 30 minutes to make sure they are covered with water. (If they are not completely covered they will explode.)
  • After three hours, remove the pot and place in sink. Run cold water into the pot until the hot water is chilled.
  • Wait 1 hour and as soon as the cans are room temperature open them and pour into a mixing bowl. Add milk and whisk until it reaches the desired consistency.


heather said...

I love the Mystery of the Missing Eyebrow. Awesome! How could you concentrate on anything else after that? Love the blog. I tried to become a 'follower' but it didn't work. Tell me again how to do that. I am jealous; You have started your blog 2 weeks ago and have 35 followers. I started mine over a year ago and have 3. Nice. you guys have good recipes. That is your secret blog power. love you!

Kristen said...

U r an awesome writer Nan!

Bob Sam said...

Must agree w/previous comments, Nan. You are doing a splendid job. It is always warm, witty, informative and very interesting. I look forward to every post, as much for the delightful narratives as the wonderous recipes.

Anonymous said...

Love the recipes and the articles!


Nan said...

I am glad you all enjoyed this post! There is so much strangeness in life to celebrate, and you really have to thank Chef for the recipes. Thank you!