Washington, DC this weekend was a city of magical realism. We caught a glimpse of a pink dragon going up 14th Street with a merry band of revelers on board. A gaucho on a horse brought traffic to a crawl on my street. I suppose when the going gets tough, the tough think magically.
Every year the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC creates its “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead) altar. Today was their open house. The altar was dedicated to the 200th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution.
This was the first year I actually did some “Day of the Dead” commemorations. In fact, I can see with time, “Dia de los Muertos” will become part of the fall celebrations and a more meaningful day of remembrance.
Our Favorite Chefs group met a week ago for our “In the Kitchen with Frida Kahlo and Diana Kennedy: Day of the Dead Potluck.” I’ve had Diana Kennedy’s The Essential Cuisines of Mexico for years, but never had the nerve to try one of her recipes. I was told they were difficult to follow or find ingredients. I selected the Dulce de Camote, a sweet potato puree with chopped dried fruit (candied orange and lemon peels, apricots, pineapple, gold and Thompson raisins), and a 1 ounce shot each of tequila and dark rum. “Camote” means sweet potato. However, one of my friendly potluck chefs said “camote” also means “fool” or “idiot.” After tasting a spoonful of the sweet potato mixture, I see what she means.
The Dulce de Camote has to be prepared at least 3 days prior to serving. It spends a lot of time in the refrigerator. Diana Kennedy says it can be eaten up to one year if you keep it in the freezer. Preparation required a lot of organizing on my part. That means another whirlwind tour of the tri-state region to collect ingredients especially the candied orange and lemon peels which can be purchased at La Cuisine in Alexandria, VA. Of course, you can make these yourself. All you need is fruit and sugar; but I was pressed for time. I’m giving La Cuisine some play because it’s a wonderful store and Diana Kennedy did shop there once according to the sales person.
Because Diana insists Mexican hot chocolate be prepared in a special clay pot, my sister ordered one and a molinillo (frother) from the Dean & Deluca on-line catalog. If you average it out, it’s about the price of a Starbucks tall special drink for each of us.
Diana Kennedy is to Mexican cooking what Julia Child was to French cooking. Both were introduced to these cuisines by their husbands whose work took them abroad. We added Frida Kahlo to the menu theme just because she is such a fascinating person and artist. Plus Frida was born in and adored her native Mexico. Diana Kennedy is originally from the UK.
We brought memories of our loved ones who were once with us but have now joined the ancestors. I wore a necklace owned by my cousin Karen. She had a great eye for style and was one of those people who loved new experiences.
The week of the potluck, NPR aired an interview with Diana Kennedy. You can listen to it here.
Here’s a slide show and menu (below). I think the ancestors would be proud.
Pechugas de Pollo con Rajas (Chicken Breasts w/ Chilies)
Meatballs in Chipotle Sauce
Hongos en Salsa Verde Estilo Queretaro (mushrooms in green sauce)
Chiles Rellanos con Queso ( Stuffed Chiles with Cheese) – our hostess learned this from another hostess during a trip to Mexico
Appetizers and Sides
Arroz con Zanahoria y Chayote ( Rice with Carrot and Chayote)
Tortillas (bought, not handmade)
Vegetable dish; a zucchini one ( Mexican version of Rattitiouli)
Day of the Dead orange bread
Dulce de Camote (Sweet Potato Dessert)
Torte De Cielo=”cake of heaven” (almond sponge cake)
Mexican hot chocolate – Diana Kennedy insists this be made in a clay container.
Agua Fresca De Flor De Jamaica (Jamaica Flower Water)
Spanish red wine selected