Friday, June 18, 2010

Food for Thought: Soul Quesadilla

The day a farmer's market was organized on campus, I rejoiced.

In a partnership between the enviro-business society and Aztec Shops (the non-profit organization in charge of all food services on campus) the farmer's market was scheduled every Thursday 10am-3pm. Committed to giving students a a day of endless possibilities while teaching the green, sustainable movement of the independent seller and grower, the farmer's market was a great step forward for SDSU.

Eating on campus gets old the third week you're on a meal plan. Panda Express can only keep you satisfied up to the 5th time in a row you have it. Orange chicken, as fabulous as it is to so many people's mouth, is highly over-rated. So are most corporate chains in my opinion. Call me a cheerleader for the average joes' and their independent-canopy-mobile-restaurants, but when you got nothing to lose, the food just comes out better-cooked with purpose: to please the paying customer.

However, today's thought is not SDSU Farmer's Market, that anecdote was used in order to explain the inspiration behind my re-falling in love with-food and its farmer's market.

When school ended so did the easy opportunity to a market, but it's summer and the still-time before friends part and grow up, the farmer's market and all its distinctive flavors await you.

Let me recommended Ocean Beach's Farmer's Market: Every Wednesday, 4-8 p.m., the really good quesadilla stand (aka Gourmet Tamales)

The really good quesadilla stand is my path to righteousness. As a full Guatemalan, certain elements in Latin cooking are religiously followed such as the tortilla. The tortilla was my bread-forget the butter-to my childhood.

Frijoles: check.
Huevos: check.
Tortillas-CORN: check.

Corn tortillas readers, not flour. If you want to eat any Latin food right, do not, I repeat, do not puss out and opt for the flour. Flour really is, in this case, unnecessary "bad carb" option. My question to you is why would you fill your stomach up with every heavy flour bite you take and increasingly have less room for the main course: the meat, the spices-the DISH.

My consistent problem with the modern quesadilla is such: flour, flour, flour. Every place I've gone has nothing but. At times, to fight my good Guatemalan fight I want to order the fajitas (which gives you the option for flour or corn), order corn, and ask for a bag of cheese. With that nefty skillet those fajitas come on, I can make do. Plus now I got grilled veggies to add to my impromptu quesadilla.

But Gourmet Tamales had me at hello corn.

Normal sized and simply exquisite, Gourmet Tamales sold three variations: cactus, spicy black bean, and chicken.

Again, as loyal chickentarian, I instinctively chose the chicken. Two please. What occurred after my 4 dollar exchange was 1. I burn my lip from eagerness and 2. had the best quesadilla to date.

Not only was the chicken plentiful, but its flavor was how-do-I-put-it-humbling. Sometimes, in a naive attempt to be "Mexican," the chicken is cooked with too many spices and too many bad decisions. Add too much cheese, and that damn flour tortilla and I shake my head to the chef, or the microwave.

At Gourmet Tamales though, I saw two large flat skillets and a line of quesadillas so neatly stacked, it was as though they were ready to march, diligently into my mouth, and my neighbor's.

The cheese was slight, my guess is Jack, but I'll get back to you on that one. Sometimes, my research gets compromised by savor. But cheese done just right, chicken bubbling in the middle of crispy-bent corn tortilla and I knew I was home. Spicy black bean almost made me cry I thought so much of my mom and my dad.

With age, my palette has grown, expanded and given the confidence to try. I grew up on a great food and in my child's heart I knew it, but my immature taste buds refused to let me enjoy it . In a way, now in my twenties, I'm rediscovering the food of my childhood and recognizing all the familiar smells and realizing all the new elements I never was mature enough to appreciate then.

Biting into these chicken quesadillas, I had another moment of crossing such bridge-me then and me now.

These moments remind me that food is an emotional journey as much as it is a hungry one. Soul food is all around. You just have to spot yours and bite in.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Like a Fine Wine

Mystery is meant to be historical.

Yes, that is a biased statement and I'm sticking to it.

Modern mysteries, in my opinion, are faulty and feeble. A mystery is only as good as its setting. Setting, is everything in mystery. There's something about the creaks in the maid's quarters, or the blow of the master's curtains in his suite as he lies awake taunted by what has surpassed-the knife gleaming inside his mind, inside the right-hand draw in the desk in the study.

Maybe because I grew up playing Clue any rainy day chance I got, but modern mysteries seem so-bland.

Historical mysteries have a certain texture to them. There's layers of class structure, family dynasties, and old-school inspector quips that make the book hum as you turn its pages quicker and quicker with each increasing clue to the final ah-ha.

I first fell in love with the genre when I stumble upon Kate Ross and good ol' Julian Kestrel. Her world was fascinating as I followed Julian to one grand murder after another. Only four books made it into Miss Ross's life before she was taken from us, dying of cancer in 1998. Almost as sad as when Harry Potter ended, my travels with Julian were ones I never wished to end.

Since then, I'm very skeptical when it comes to my next historical mystery. The covers are clever tricks: an ominous lamp post, a dark cobblestone with a silhouetted figure at the end-a calligraphy title, promising you the world-the historical world.

As an avid book shopper, the key to success is to read the first 5 pages, if you have more time I advise a chapter then-especially with historical mysteries. You have to get a feel for the right texture the novel should have. Smooth-smooth as a baby's bottom. The opening should ease you in and the hook (the murder) should be the first event of the novel without you even knowing it's the murder. Therefore, when the next chapter is introduced in real time, you realize that flashback was just that-a flashback. Throughout the rest of the novel you will continue to look back on this not-so-insignificant exposition.

Exposition. Well-done historical mysteries have the best openings more so. Like a great play, the curtains rise and you immediately find yourself inside-like a closed cardboard box: imagination has taken over.


But I have finally found a good historical gem. "A Death in Vienna" is so far turning out to be quite fascinating because psychology, the birth of Freud's psychoanalysis, is part of the historical background. Freud, himself, even shares a scene with one of our main characters. Introducing psychology and the importance it could have with an investigation in this novel is like reading antique CSI: Las Vegas (not Miami-NEVER Miami).

Grisham is Liebermann (the doctor consulted by his good friend Detective Rheinhardt). He speaks with each of the suspects, or suspicious affiliates to the victim, in a nonchalant manner, asking questions that appear seemingly innocent and small-talk but are rather revealing when analyze later and deduce to the next step in the murder.

Psychology has been a academic hobby of mine. Learning here and there on my own, I was inspired to continue learning after taking a psychology course in the human personality. The world of psychology is an intricate web of calculated estimates and theories. Never perfect nor predictable, the human mind is a labyrinth that psychologists spend their entire life trying to navigate. Now, throw that puppy into the great historic intricacies of Vienna, circa 1902, the hub of enlightenment, and I'm so there.


So find that fireplace in your imagination. Curl up next to it, and read a historical mystery.

Billiard Room, Mrs. White, with the rope. Don't let her sweet maid uniform fool ya.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gina Marlowe Hunter: a clusterfuck of wonderful.

Today is not about food. Yes, it's Friday and yes therefore in the viral universe of "Ice Cream For Breakfast" it is food for thought. But today, something grander happened: Gina Marlowe Hunter was born.

I'll say no to a lot of things just to hang out with Gina: class (more times than I would like to admit), homework, reading, the gym, etc. etc. And today, again, I'm saying no to food and well, making you come along and hang out with Gina for the next couple of paragraphs.

The day I left for college, no, the day I was accepted to San Diego State, my mother began praying. She told me she was praying everyday for I to have a lovely, sweet roommate in the dorms. Of course, my mother was more afraid about the whole bunking with a complete stranger than I was..but she prayed on.

Gina, to my mother, is her pray, embodied in a feisty, spunky, lovable girl. For that, she will always be so very special to my mother.

But as for me, it's hard to put a word to it, let alone, several. I knew this birthday blogcard would be difficult because when is it ever easy to talk about a best friend-as an adult?

Best friends when we're young are sacred and held next to our hearts in chains with "B.F.F" embossed in diamonds. We hold hands with them in elementary school, wrap our arms around each other's necks in middle school, and in high school we hug them. But as we leave the safe confounds of our school years and enter into the first taste of independence and of important choices, it's hard to hold onto the small things that matter to us.

Rent, bills, tuition, books, books, jobs, homework, essays, finals, and merely keeping our GPA up is what takes priority. Granted as freshmen we learn the hard way to understanding these priorities, but making any friends is our top priority. Still "fresh" from our comforting lifestyles in our hometowns, we know that our friends are everything, but where to find them on a vast, diverse campus?

Everyone is playing the lotto, and I hit the Mega Jackpot.

I picked my numbers (answering a roommate placement questionnaire) and held onto my ticket. The wheel turned and the balls fell. Each number lining up to my ticket-I hit Gina.

And my winnings leave me speechless.

Gina is clusterfuck of wonderful things. It's honestly one of the best ways I can describe her character, her nature of pure awesomeness.

You meet Gina and she tricks you-she seems normal. She seems easy-going-mellow kind of gal. But all tricks-nothing but a bunch of smoke and mirrors.

Gina is not normal. The other qualities of easy-going and mellowness, yeah, that's true, but not without the real gritty truth-Gina is 110% a nerd. A child nerd-to be more precise. The 8-year-old spunk of a tomboy has not left her. Gina will kick, crawl, army-crawl, skip, jump, cartwheel her way to you versus walking. Barefoot too. That's how she really gets into your heart-you have so much fun watching her do it that you never think twice about letting her.

It is one of the most natural occurrences of my life-loving Gina.

One night we laughed, and I would never be the same again.

I said goodbye to many things when I left to San Diego. Broken-hearted in more ways than one, I moved to San Diego with a heaviness. Laughing with Gina one random September night in 2005 about my package of sliced potatoes, I left it all-my weight, my aches, my pains. From then on, each day only got better. And each year.

In college you find your best friend(s) in a very organic way. I hate to sound so pretentious (trust me Gina would kill me or just pinch me if I ever sound pretentious) but something about the environment in college, makes the development of friendships different-stronger. Gina has seen the worse of me, and I of her. Gina has seen the best as well, and has seen mistakes that lead to bigger consequences. The game of Life becoming more prevalent to each one of us as we grow older in it.

Gina's signature is on my college degree. Next to the Dean of the English department and President Weber.

Gina Marlowe Hunter
Best Friend, San Diego State University

She's on my resume.

She will be on my wedding invitation.

On my children's birth certificates.

On my life insurance papers.

On my first home owner's deed.

On my published novels.

Gina will be on some very important papers. She has to be. She's my person.

Happy Birthday friend of forever and ever.
Loving every bit of you since '05 and going strong...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


If there's anything I watch more than movies, it's T.V. I know-no big deal. What else would you be watching if not T.V. when you don't opt for a feature film. But I watch T.V.-not flip through the channels and decide that a Jersey Shore marathon is how I will spend my Sunday afternoon. No, I watch T.V. with purpose-I have to.

When Alex and I first moved into our apartment we moved in with big dreams of cable with DVR and all the recorded shows we love ready at the click of the play button and no commercials. Again, we're big T.V. buffs and LOST to me is a way of life. LOST parties were clear and beautiful in my mind because there would be no nonsense, unnecessary ads would interrupt precious viewing time. And there would be flexibility. Everyone didn't have to request Tuesday nights off from work and set the rest of the schedule off. LOST came to us, not the other way around.

DVR was power. Power over network scheduling.

So, Alex and I were excited to say the least.

However, I am now fully convinced that demons run all cable companies. Demons that take pleasure in automated torture and never-ending scripted conversations that leave its victims wondering that maybe they are wrong, maybe they DO need to pay $300 to have the tech guy rummage around say that the T.V. was on the wrong channel for the cable.

Needless to say, Alex and I got so upset we were fighting at each other by the end of it and at that point I knew the demon had won; he turned us on our loved ones.

Nope. Forget it. F@#$ it.

Plan B: different company-only internet plus Netflix. Add instant watch over XBox 360 Live yearly subscription and presto: DVR.

I would like to proclaim here to you all on this public blog that Netflix instant watch will crush cable T.V. asweknowit. Once you have it, live it, press it, for one day-you're finished. Instant watch has all the great perks of DVR-no commercials, strictly T.V. viewing-business, non-Cox-cable-demon affiliated, pleasure.

Every month instant watch gets cooler and awesomer. Recent addition includes all seasons of Reno 911, and ALL, I mean ALL the great Nickelodeon shows of my 90's youth: Doug, Rugarts, Hey! Arnold, Ahh! Monsters, and Angry Beavers.

The dawn of an old age is upon us.

May I remind you that all this "instant watch" is included with actual dvd rentals we get in the mail too-the old fashioned way.

I'm watching the fifth season of The Sopranos, Fringe, Hey! Arnold, Reno 911, Party Down, and Lost (seasons 1-5) all at the same time. Juggling new and old favorites; I'm in T.V. heaven. And if I need instant cable network gratification, I say hello to Hulu. So new Office, Lost, Jaime Oliver's Food Revolution, and 30 Rock is still there. Viewed by my eyes and my heart. Whenever the hell I want.

I'm always on a quest for great T.V. and most times, I actually enjoying coming half-way through all the madness because the series has been put on dvd, on instant watch, and can be viewed in partial or full marathons, consuming you like a movie. Endless hours of good writing and plot devices, which nowadays we try hard to get.

The day reality T.V. became the "it" thing, my T.V. heart died a little. And with each progressing year that its popularity rose, it died more.

To say I was heartbroken is underestimating the simultaneous anger I felt throughout the past decade. God...a decade...

Hence, in this decade, good shows (drama or comedy) are diamonds in the ruth. Good shows cost more, may rise, may tank, may blow all the money put into it or triple its profits in the end of one season, but whatever the finances may be, T.V. plays are expensive and reality-cheap. Cheap, whore like concoctions (pardon my honesty).

So I instant-watch; the best televised verb of our generation.

Look out LOL.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Food for Thought: Homemade Philosophy

I've realized that I yet to have a thought for anything under my absolute, weak-in-the-knees, sugar galore category of food: cake-HOMEmade cake.

I grew up in a house where store bought cakes were an insult. My mother believed that if you didn't bake it yourself you 1. didn't love the person and 2. were lazy.

I will never buy a cake for someone I love.

Now one of the greatest perks of living with a baking mother is the smell. I will never believe you if you say you don't love the smell of warm vanilla. If you don't then you are like my dear friend Jaime-smell-less. Jaime, in a small accident, lost her sense of smell. Farting to her is obsolete. Lucky woman.

But I'm not here to talk to you guys about gas, I want to talk about warm vanilla aromas. If you bake anything in your house or apartment or studio, no Glade plug-in or candle will ever match up. (Even the ones that say like "vanilla cookie" or "fresh-baked cookies." That is a fake smell and baking deserves better from you and your honesty)

I looked forward to every birthday. And my sister's birthday. And my other sister's birthday. And my dad's birthday. Birthdays were good days. No matter how tired my mom would be-8-hour work day, 2-hour L.A. traffic commute-if it was one of our birthdays, the cake would be baked. And with love.

That's the thing about baking: it's only as good as the heart you put into. As essential as butter or eggs, baking needs heart. As many cups as possible. I'm not talking about teaspoons here readers. Baking will be useless in the hands of the evil and the hated. I convinced that no good psychopath would be able to bake you a decent pie or cupcake. If Kathy Bates' character in Misery had to make a batch of snickerdoodles, we be toast.

How Martha Stewart is such a damn good baker is beyond me. I'm sure she cheats.

But with love, my mother would whip the eggs, melt the butter (never oil. my mother taught me that oil over butter-always. and trust me, it makes the cake. oh, and milk. milk over water. cake is not meant to be healthy and if it tries to be it's loveless). So the butter and milk: key ingredients. And whether you whip it yourself or whip it by hand, add a little extra milk. Just a pinch. My happy accident with extra milk made one of the best cakes of my life by far. My mother got jealous, it was that good.

I like to go with a simple vanilla cake most times, and I let the frosting be my flavorful flair. Sprinkles, decorative frosting tubes, flowers, smiley faces, even the shape of the cake can be a major part of the flair. I love using shapes. I will be buying the giant cupcake cake mold that I've been eyeing at CVS (they always have a great collection of "as seen on tv" products)

Baking was a way for me to drag the sweetness out of whatever foul mood I was in, especially in high school. Naturally in my adolescence my temper had no boundaries. Free to roam and scare the shit out of many, including myself. But the baking helped. My parents would come home smelling those warm vanilla waves and shake their heads and smile at me. I would get an extra tug in my hug from each of them on those days.

Like my mother, birthdays were big baking days for me. I would bake the night before school, heart-shaped mold buttered and floured and the next morning skip to my lucky birthday girl or boy and say "hey, i love you. here's some delicious cake."

Nowadays, my baking days are few and far apart. Partly because I lack the necessary tools to really make a spectacular cake, but I make do when important days come by. My older sister is getting married at the end of September and she has registered for some good baking items. I told her baking dates between her and I will have be initiated.

Baking, then, will take on a new level of love. It's one thing baking by yourself, thinking of that special person for who the cake is for, humming to yourself because you are so content in making this for them, with love. But to having a baking partner, someone that you love (friend, sister, mother, father, brother, cousin, etc) than the baking experience is changed for the better.

Cakes are underestimated in the bake shops. And the bakery at the grocery stores. That, readers, is secretly because the cake is meant to be homemade-that's my cake philosophy.

So grab a heart-shape mold, line up your eggs, milk, and butter, and make sure to get good vanilla extract (Trader Joe's has a great one) and bake. Because you care. And you're not lazy.

Some jobs are meant to be done by us. Not them. Never forget the power and love of your own sweat and burns.