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
In 2008 I started a Community Organizer Hall of Fame, a series of profiles of persons who are doing selfless work for the benefit of others. Yesterday Marisol Valles Garcia, a 20-year-old mother and student of criminology was sworn in as sheriff of Praxedis G. Guerrero, a small border town caught in the crossfire of two rival drug cartels. Her only police experience has been as a secretary in the station. The former sheriff was gunned down July 2009, according to the AP story. No one would take on the job until Garcia stepped up.
The tiny but energetic Valles Garcia, whose only police experience was a stint as a department secretary, says she wants her 13 officers to practice a special brand of community policing. She plans to hire more women — she currently has three — and assign each to a neighborhood to talk with families, promote civic values and detect potential crimes before they happen.
“My people are out there going door to door, looking for criminals, and (in homes) where there are none, trying to teach values to the families,” she said in her first official appearance on Wednesday. “The project is … simple, based on values, principles and crime prevention in contacts house-by-house.”
As I’m reading a biography of Elizabeth I, I am applauding this Garcia on so many levels. I will also keep her in my prayers.
For the complete story by AP writer Praxedis G. Guerrero click on this link.
Hat tip: Clayton LeBouef
JOSE ANDRES: NO MAS RIDGID RIDGEWELLS
Star chef and restaurateur Jose Andres was in town this week with his next big thing – the giant paella pan. I believe the Jolly Green Giant size cooker made two public appearances in town this month — at the White House Farmers Market which is open for business through November 18; and a special preview of a new joint venture between Ridgewells and Jose Andres Catering at the Long View Gallery on 9th Street, across from the Walter Washington Convention Center.
Jose is probably the primary person who made tapas or the little plate acceptable to DC diners accustomed to measuring food quantity against price. I remember going to Andres’ Jaleo opening week just to enjoy a pan of paella and sangria. You could find paella here and there in DC, but outside a backyard party with Spaniards, Jaleo was as close as I could get.
I missed a lot of the passed hors d’oeuvres at the tasting, but I was able to sample:
Mojito with spun sugar (cotton candy)
Liquid Olives spherification
Ajo Blanco Malagueno con Uvas (traditional almond white gazpacho)
Cured Salmon with Spanish Herbs
Guacamole con Moicajete
Pork shoulder with fresh tortillas
Philly Cheese Steak
and of course Paella with assorted seasonal vegetables
That’s Jose presiding over the paella pan in the back of the gallery.
Back in the day, having a Ridgewells truck unload at a wedding reception or any event meant white linen table cloths and napkins, real bone china and silver, and elegant center pieces for a huge price tag. The food would be so-so, but image was everything. As the foodie explosion hit the “established” Washington scene, Ridgewells probably was losing favor especially as chefs were becoming mini celebrities (even flown in from other locations), and food was the star. Today one may be impressed by the tent and lawn chair trucks. Party planners craved more than a shrimp cocktail and carving station. Hosts were not ashamed of serving elegant “street food.”
Jose made his exit from the gallary just as soon as the giant paella was done. Our exits were gifted with hand made candies:
Passion Fruit Marshmallow
White Chocolate with Dill
After B Chocolate and Mint
This may be Ridgewells’ reawakening. Let the white linens be damned.
DOS (2) IS THE MAGIC NUMBER
It’s been two days since the 2nd State Dinner for the Obama Administration at the White House. So far no after-party drama. It was the first State Dinner for the new Social Secretary Julianna Smoot. Smoot dashed, flashed a quick smile and waved to the cameras, and that was that. This time the honored guests were President Felipe Calderón of Mexico and his wife Margarita Zavala. A celebrity chef was brought in: Rick Bayless of Chicago…a favorite of the first couple.
Here’s the menu:
Jicama with Oranges, Grapefruit, and Pineapple
Ulises Valdez Chardonnay 2007 “Russian River”
Herb Green Ceviche of Hawaiian Opah
Oregon Wagyu Beef in Oaxacan Black Mole (click for recipe)
Black Bean Tamalon and Grilled Green Beans
Herrera Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 “Selección Rebecca”
Toasted Homemade Marshmallows
Graham Cracker Crumble and Goat Cheese Ice Cream
Mumm Napa “Carlos Santana Brut” N/V
Robin Givhan and Roxanne Roberts of The Washington Post were on First Lady and State Dinner duty (what appears to be a pro forma assignments for these Style writers). Robin also covers fashion for the Washington Post, but is now DC based as the feature cultural writer covering the Obama administration. I feel an eclectique interview coming on.
There’s more to this picture than just the protocols of diplomacy. I’m curious about what happened and what was said off camera related to immigration, migrant workers, drugs, crime, trade, and other topics in which one country’s actions impacts the other. How about that oil spill? After all, it is in the Gulf of Mexico is it not?
Even Michelle Obama got her share of the conversation when she and First Lady Margarita Zavala visited an elementary school in Silver Spring, MD. A second grader revealed to the First Lady that her mother didn’t have papers and President Obama wants to send her mother away. I tell you, be careful what you say around kids. I feel bad for that little girl when her family saw the story.
You can read Robin’s State Dinner reports here, and here. The second story features three organizations that were invited to the party: Mary Center, Martha’s Table, and Miriam’s Kitchen (where I’ve volunteered to serve dessert during the Big Read). First Lady Michelle Obama has visited or volunteered at these non-profit groups.
Here’s the guest list.
Heads of state and their spouses are often not the people to consult for travel tips. Itineraries are meticulously crafted, and even entire environments are altered to give the right impression. I enjoy travel, but I usually (and maybe due to my own financial limitations) experience place on the same terms as a working resident would. I eat where the locals eat. I use public transportation and not tourist buses or motorcades. I may have business or some project on my plate, but my schedule is moderately fluid to leave myself open for those a-ha moments. I’ve even bused my own dishes. There’s a certain freedom in being nobody on a budget.
Since relocating to DC from NYC (after the Washington Post closed their offices), fashion and culture journalist Robin Givhan has been assigned to first lady Michelle Obama’s press pool. She’s covering her 40 hour visit to Mexico.
Obama has embarked on an international agenda that views the world — and its significant problems — through the eyes of children. Before arriving in Mexico City, she made a five-hour stopover in Haiti — something she has wanted to do since January.
“The minute the disaster struck, you’re thinking, ‘I need to go down there,’ ” she said during an interview with reporters. “Then you think, ‘I’m the first lady. I’ll just shut the whole country down.’
This trip, three months in the making, allowed her to survey the earthquake damage, thank aid workers for their dedication to the country’s rebuilding and draw attention to Haiti’s continuing need for help. And Obama, once again, struck her familiar refrain: What about the children?
The details of the more unofficial trip to Haiti appear to follow the official itinerary.
Covering the first lady may seem like a fun job, but writing about it in the context of the first lady’s agenda and itinerary seems to take all the fun out of traveling with Michelle. Can she just sit in a coffee shop and people watch for 2 hours? What/who catches her eye? Any time to go to the markets? At the end of the day, do her feet hurt? What about Michelle?
The point of a first lady’s solo flight abroad is symbolism. She’s the human and kinder face of diplomacy. No real power to make decisions, but definitely power to influence or better yet inspire humanitarian action.
The May issue of Conde Nast’s Traveler magazine has the cover story, “Mrs. Obama’s Washington.” I suppose the point of this feature is what makes this first lady’s Washington different from other first ladies’. Certainly we won’t see her in the throngs of t-shirt, short, and sneaker attired tourists on the Mall. But we see signs of life in Michelle Obama’s Washington, even a little bit of DC.
Since the Obamas took up residence, the White House has been a consistent destination for school field trips for DC public and charter school students. The Obamas, themselves have been to Ward 8 (that’s South East for those who aren’t familiar): to visit the Frederick Douglass house; and most recently to attend Easter service at Allen AME Church. One thing people won’t read about Ward 8 is that it has some of the cleanest air maybe in the entire city. You get that at the Frederick Douglass House and from the hill top of the Anacostia Community Museum.
Barack and I come from a community-organizing background,” Mrs. Obama told us during a recent visit. “The notion has always been that you have to commit to the community you’re in, wherever that is. You really have to connect. So it was important for me to do that here, given the fact that in many cities there is a disconnect between the central part of the city and the neighborhoods that surround it.
The Obamas have eaten the local food where working folks eat. Michelle has shopped in a local market to push her healthy eating agenda (that market also sold very good cookies – I had two). And, many have read that the Obamas attend parent/teacher meetings and school activities for their children. Sources tell me, their daughters enjoy the company of friends at school just as other kids would, but everyone’s sworn to secrecy on the details.
In DC, we tend to do minimal primping when the first family comes to the neighborhood, except in extreme circumstances. I’ll never forget how a room in my high school was totally transformed when the President came to visit. Security is the main priority.
But even Mrs. Obama’s Washington is carefully orchestrated to compliment her and her family’s own personal characteristics and values. More symobolism? Yes. The test will be if the Obamas will return to DC after the White House years. Will they be just another politician or administration official blaming Washington for the misery in their lives having never touched or encountered the real city.
If there is any personal travel goal for an Obama on the road it may be to find a special place to be nobody.
Two exhibits I’m definitely going to catch this month at the Smithsonian Institution museums:
IndiVISIBLE: AFRICAN-NATIVE AMERICAN LIVES IN THE AMERICAS
Opens November 10. I got the heads up about this one a few weeks ago from Phoebe Farris who has an essay in the exhibition catalog. Click on the title or here to see the on-line exhibit and resources.
The history of African Native peoples is as rich as it is complicated. It’s the race thing, nationality, culture, and even class. Dual identity isn’t as complicated as people may think especially if you have the attitude of “it’s all good” with you and the ancestors.
But being is one thing. Belonging is another. There are African Americans who talk a lot about their Native American ancestors. And in return they get the skeptic’s eye. At the same time, there are Native American communities that do not claim African Native peoples, but embrace Euro-Indians. I’ve heard these stories of divide. I’ve also heard stories where every member of the tribe/community is embraced. But will Denzel Washington get to dance with wolves?
IndiVISIBLE is going to be an important exhibit and I’m certain it will be well-attended. It may answer some questions, set some records straight, perhaps form new connections towards belonging.
There’s a series of programs on Friday, November 13:
1 PM – 2:30 PM (Workshop) Blended Families: Tracing African-Native American Genealogy
3 PM – 6 PM (Symposium) IndiVisible: African-Native American Lives in the Americas
…and Saturday, November 14 from 10:30 AM – 12:30 PM, there’s a “Meet the Curator” program.
The exhibit and all the events take place at the National Museum of the American Indian at Fourth Street and Independence Avenue, SW on the national mall. The museum’s website is www.nmai.si.edu.
THE AFRICAN PRESENCE IN MEXICO: FROM YANGA TO THE PRESENT
Opens November 9 at the Anacostia Community Museum. This exhibit comes to DC via the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago. The exhibit features the art and culture of Afro-Mexicans, a community that evolved from the trans-Atlantic slave trade or adventurers seeking fortunes with a little help to collect it. Yanga is the name of the hero/slave rebel from Mexico’s colonial era. WHO ARE WE NOW?: ROOTS, RESISTANCE AND RECOGNITION accompanies the exhibit charting the history of African and Mexican American relationships in the US and African American relationships with Mexico.
If anyone’s familiar with Mexican casta painting from the 18th century — an artistic way of keeping track of race mixing by race mapping — one may see yet another series of complicated relationships in being and belonging.
The Anacostia Community Museum is located 1905 Fort Place, SE and is open daily from 10 – 5 PM. Directions are available here.
And while you’re there November 14th and 15th, be sure to check out Juanita Britton‘s Black Holiday Ornaments Sale at her Anacostia Art Gallery & Boutique. There will be a tree trimming celebration. The gallery is just a hop and a skip away from the Anacostia Community Museum. Trust me. You can’t miss it. Visit www.bzbinternational.com.