A Mexican Dinner

The menu for my Mexican meal consisted of the following:

  1. Horchada. A mexican milk-like drink flavoured with cinnamon.
  2. Baja Fish Tacos. Deep-fried fish served in soft tortillas with the following condiments:
    1. Guacamole: an avocado-based mash
    2. Salsa Fresca a.k.a. Pico de Gallo: a tomato based salsa using fresh ingredients
    3. Mexican Red Cabbage Slaw
  3. Corn on the cob
  4. Sweet Tamales.

I was most interested in cooking a Mexican meal because I know I like Mexican food and because this is one of the Spanish-speaking countries I’ll be visiting next spring. Also, I do not generally eat much fish or seafood, but lately I have been trying more of it and am discovering that I like it. Since both the places I’ll be travelling to this year have diets that are heavily based on fish and seafood, I figured this was a good opportunity to try out cooking a fish-based meal.

Horchada

1/3 cup fragrant rice
1/2 cup almonds
600 ml (2 1/2 cups) water
1 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

You can make this drink using a blender, saucepan and cheesecloth, but we have a small appliance called a Soyabella that easily creates non-dairy milk, so I used that.

Soak the rice and almonds in 600 ml of water for 4 hours.

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Process in Soyabella on “Milk” setting. Alternatively purée, then heat to simmering for 20 minutes and strain the solids off using a cheesecloth bag.

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To the liquid, stir in vanilla extract, milk, sugar and cinnamon. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Guacamole

3 avocados
Juice of half a large lemon
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. finely chopped jalapeño pepper (to taste)
1/3 cup finely chopped mild onion
1 tsp. salt

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Note: Avocados should be perfectly ripe. This means they are just ripe enough to indent slightly with a bit of pressure from your thumb through the skin, but they should not already be squishy.

Halve and pit avocados and then shell them out. You can dice them into chunks, and/or mash them smooth with a fork. For fish tacos guacamole should be pretty chunky, so I just diced.

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Dice the other ingredients and mix them in. Adjust salt to taste.

Guacamole can be made ahead of time, but you need to prevent the avocado from oxidizing since this leads to grey discolouration. What I did was put a double layer of plastic wrap on top of it, in direct contact with the guacamole, and refrigerate. Then when it was time to serve, I removed the wrap and gave it a good stir. It stayed a nice bright green.

Salsa Fresca

4 ripe tomatoes
Juice of 1 lime
1 cup mild white onion, diced
1/2 a large bunch of cilantro
1 Tbsp. finely diced jalapeño
1 tsp. salt

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Dice tomatoes. Juice the lime. Chop the cilantro. Add all ingredients, with the exception of the salt, to a bowl. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Add the salt just a few minutes before serving, as it draws a lot of liquid out of the tomatoes and makes the salsa runny.

Mexican Red Cabbage Slaw

1 1/2 cups finely sliced red cabbage
2 Tbsp. agave nectar (or honey)
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt, to taste

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate until served.

Fish Tacos

1 lb. white-fleshed fish fillets (eg. halibut, though I used basa because it was what my family had on hand)
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
oil for frying
8 – 10 small corn or flour tortillas

Mix together the flour, chili pepper and black pepper on a plate. Cut the fish into strips about 3/4″ by 5″. Dredge the fish strips in the flour mixture, then fry in oil heated to 375ºF until crispy and golden-brown on the outside. Set on paper towels to drain any excess oil.

Note about frying: Traditionally in Mexico the fish would be deep-fried for 2-3 minutes but I decided to shallow-fry, since I was only making a small quantity and didn’t want to waste a lot of oil. I put oil in a small wok to a depth of about 1 cm and heated it on medium-high. A good test for temperature is to put the tip of a wooden spoon in and see if it bubbles. The oil should be quite hot, but below the smoke point. With shallow-frying, only one side of the fish is immersed at a time, so I cooked it for a total of about 5 minutes, flipping it part-way through. This was my first experience frying in oil.

To assemble the tacos, place a strip of cooked fish on a tortilla and spoon on the three condiments (salsa fresca, guacamole and cabbage slaw) to taste.

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Fish taco ready to fold and eat, with a glass of horchada on the side.

Sweet Tamales

A couple of dozen corn husks
1/4 cup dried cranberries
Optional: 2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier
1/4 cup shortening or lard
1/2 cup masa harina
2/3 cup of milk (or a combination of milk and coconut milk)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted

Note: I couldn’t find dried corn husks anywhere, so I added corn on the cob as a side to the dinner and used the husks that came off the fresh corn. I dried them in a very low oven for half an hour and then soaked them in warm water. This made them pliable and less prone to tearing and cracking than if I had used them fresh.

 

Note: Masa harina is a special type of corn flour used a lot in Mexican cooking. It has lime (calcium hydroxide) as an additive and that gives it a distinctive flavour. Traditionally lime was needed to swell the corn and loosen the husks on the kernels, making it easier to grind the dried corn to a fine flour manually using stones. Now that corn flour is produced in factories the lime is no longer needed for this reason, but the flavour is traditional so it is still used.

Set the dried corn husks aside to soak in some water for half an hour.

Combine the dried cranberries with a bit of hot water and/or the Grand Marnier. Set aside to soak.

Meanwhile beat the vegetable shortening until fluffy and then add half the masa harina. Beat in the milk.

Combine the remaining masa harina with the salt and baking powder and beat into the milk mixture. Drizzle in the melted butter, beating well.

Drain any excess liquid from the cranberries and fold them into the masa mixture with a spoon.

Remove the corn husks from their soaking water. To assemble the tamales lay a large corn husk on the counter and place 2 Tbsp. of the filling in the middle. Fold the sides in to make a tube, and then fold the top and bottom in. Stack the tamales in a microwave-safe dish.

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Cover and microwave for 6 minutes on high. Leave to cool for 5-10 minutes. To eat, unfold the corn husk to get at the filling.

Traditional sweet or savory tamales are a popular street food in Mexico. They are usually cooked by steaming over large pots of water for an hour or two. However we found that microwaving is a great way to cook them in small quantities. They stay moist and they cook well through to the centre quickly.

 

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A bit more on Foods

In the past few weeks I had the opportunity to get back into a commercial style kitchen volunteering with dinner prep and cleanup for Corazón choir’s final concerts. The food was potluck, so myself and the four adults managing the dinner mostly had to rewarm dishes and plate things out. We set things up so that flow through the serving area would be efficient and would make sense to the singers. Afterwards we washed all the dishes using the commercial dishwasher and we were fast enough that we were able to get to the last performance in plenty of time. We were serving about 70 people on this occasion, and used the kitchen at Nelson Food Cupboard.

At home, along with the usual baking, I’ve been focusing on making beverages. I can make soy milk and almond milk, and I have perfected a recipe for horchada, a traditional Mexican rice/almond milk beverage with cinnamon. Another type of beverage I’ve been exploring is ice/juice/milk mixtures puréed to make Orange Julius knock-offs. These are sweet with citrus and vanilla flavours dominant. I’m going to experiment with including other fruits besides the orange and strawberry I’ve tried so far. We now have a sodastream for making soda water, so I have begun experimenting with things like mojito-inspired sparkling beverages with mint and lime.

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Violin progress

Since the Music Festival I have continued to move ahead in my violin learning. My teacher assigned me three new pieces, all at the Conservatory Grade 9 or 10 level. The first is the deBeriot Concerto in a minor. This is a technically challenging romantic piece with lots of left-hand technique in it. I’ve been doing a lot more scales and double-stops (two notes played on different strings at the same time) to improve my left hand accuracy and dexterity. I really like this piece, and it will continue working on it throughout the summer.

I’m also working on the first movement of the Bach Solo Sonata in g minor. I’m enjoying paying attention to how Bach weaves together several “voices” in one instrument. In other words, sometimes the lower note in a chord or double-stop will lead into a melodic line, while the other notes are more of an accompaniment, and then a few notes later it’s the upper note that is more important in changing the harmony. So I’m paying attention to identifying and emphasizing the important notes. Bach’s compositions are extremely complex this way.

I also have a Kreisler piece I’ve learned that has given me some rhythmic challenges, and bunch of studies mostly focusing on developing my bowing technique, especially flexibility in the wrist and fingers.

I’m playing in a trio with my sister and a cellist in Nelson. We’re performing this week at a benefit concert at the Capitol Theatre. We’re playing Gymnopédie by Erik Satie and Libertango by Astor Piazzolla. Libertango is tango-inspired, but with jazz influences, and I have the melody line which is very fun.

The other thing on my plate is preparation for the Advanced Chamber Music Program at the Suzuki institute this summer. I’ve been assigned two quartet movements, one violin ensemble piece, and about 8 orchestra movements. It’s about 20 pages of music to learn, so I’ll be busy with that until August.

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English and literary studies

I thought I should take some time to write about what I have been learning related to english, creative writing and literature.

I have been watching and reading many case studies about film, writing and poetry, such as literary analyses of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”, William Butler Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan”, and Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner”. This has inspired me to learn about things like interconnectivity and intertextuality in film and literature, the affect of context on storytelling, and the fact that most modern film and literature is just based and modeled on past works.

I also watched an in-depth breakdown of Donald Trump’s language style. This pointed out the fact that he (along with many other politicians) use simple language – even going so far as to mostly use one syllable words – to subtly gain trust and relatability with the masses. He also strangely words his sentences, often making them awkward to say and listen to, causing him to almost always end a sentence with a strong, quotable word (eg. problem, point, tremendous, bedlam). It is incredible to see someone so strenuously manipulate their talking style to gain political points and media coverage.

I have been reading quite a few books lately. The first is “The Painted Girls” by Cathy Marie Buchanan, a coming of age book about two sisters in 19th century Paris, one of whom is forced to train to become a professional ballet dancer in the Paris Opera due to the fact that her family will otherwise be evicted from their home. It takes a good look in to the temptations that a life in poverty – especially in that time – could result in. I have also been reading  various books of poetry by Robert Frost, Jacqueline Woodson, Wallace Stegner and Margaret Atwood. In addition to this, I have been rereading the Narnia series and am planning on rereading the Harry Potter series.

 

 

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Aerial Silks

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French Revolution PowerPoint

Here is the link to a PowerPoint I made as part of my Social Studies featuring the role of the guillotine in the French Revolution.

Guillotine PowerPoint

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Reflective Response: What to Do Next?

“The State of Learning Today”

1. Is there any truth in the scenario portrayed by the video you chose?

Only one of the two video options was available due to copyright constraints so I watched A Vision of Students Today. I found myself relating to some of the responses the students gave, so I think that there is truth to the points the video is making. Education needs to be individualized to have relevance and impact for the learner. If the learner is not interested, he or she is unlikely to retain and integrate what is taught. Standardized learning, chopped up into subjects and based on the delivery of information from teacher to student is an outdated model. Expecting students to all learn the same things in the same way and the same order is not going to suit the wide variety of learning styles that exist. Students need to take part in their own learning experiences, helping to direct them.

2. What makes good teaching?

Good teaching encompasses a variety of presentation styles to suit different learning styles. Good teachers are willing to individualize how they interact with and evaluate their students. Good teachers keep their eyes on the horizon, knowing that there are many ways to get there. They expect good learning from their students, but they are flexible about how that learning occurs.

 3. What makes good learning?

Students who are committed to their learning and involved in their learning, who interact with teachers and fellow students, are good learners. If they are self-motivated and enthusiastic this enriches their experience and the learning environment around them.

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