CUE THE LIGHT SWITCH RAVE!!!
Recently, I’ve been filling out academic job applications and sending them into the void. Writing these has meant having to talk about myself. A lot. I’ve never been thrilled about doing this type of thing—I am the best candidate, the bester candidate, the bestest candidate—but, given that I’m in practice at this point, I figure I can use at least some of these bonus issues to give you a better sense of who I am, where I’m coming from, and so on. It feels rather egocentric, but given the implicit restrictions of a one-way flow of digital information, it’s probably the best way to get to know me until we have the opportunity to hang face to face.
Why would you care? Well, I can’t answer that for you. My hope is that you’re at least a little interested in who I am as well as in what I do. Proceed at your own peril.
So, that’s the plan. If you have any questions, let me know—maybe I can make one of these some sort of AMA.
I alluded to my fascination with Mexican cuisine in an earlier newsletter. Here’s more of the story behind that: my uncle has lived in New Mexico for decades and decade. During the year-end holidays, he would unfailingly ship us boxes full of chile powder and, on good years, dried chile pods. None of us had any real sense about what to do with these goodies, so we usually sprinkled some into this and that until either the bags were empty or were taking up too valuable storage space and so got “replaced.” The smells of the powders were intoxicating, and our haphazard use of them never did them justice.
My brother changed this. At some point, he began buying cookbooks obsessively and reading them cover to cover, wanting to understand the general and specific principles that help to determine whether a fish dish would make or break. As part of this culinary revolution, he picked up Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen and cooked through a respectable portion of it before deciding to move on to other types of cuisine.
Not me, though. Despite not actually having tried anything he made (we were living in different cities), I asked to borrow his book. I'm not positive why, which admittedly leaves a significant gap in the story, but I assume it had to do with the some deep-seeded desire to put those still-arriving powders to better use. Under his strict instructions not to stain the pages or break the spine by opening it too widely (what little faith!), I started reading my way through, quickly realizing that I needed my own copy. I therefore got my own copy.
One of the enticing things about Bayless is that he offers really practical substitutions for hard-to-get items without feeling like you’re creating an entirely new dish. This helped in the early stages, although it probably added some fuel to the “must find these” fire. Like my brother, I quickly became frustrated with the limited information on the bags sent by our uncle, which included color (red or green) and heat rating (mild to extra hot), but nothing about the actual chiles. Like my brother, I started ordering dried chiles in bulk in order to cook through the Bayless book. And, like my brother, I have a special place in my heart for the pasilla de Oaxaca, hands down my favorite chile.
During my Masters, I began cooking for other people, inviting small numbers over to my house for dinner. This really took off during my Ph.D, becoming known as “Nuevo Jersey” dinners. We held 40 of these over 5 years, the smallest with just one other person (Loren Stata bravely venturing forth during Hurricane Sandy), and many with over 20 people. A few had music by DJ Wally Gunn (can’t remember the name he was spinning under). Many were prepared with the invaluable assistance of a band of co-chefs, including Carolina, Loren, Quinn, and Travis.
One of the guiding principles was to use these as an opportunity to build community, something altogether too rare in too many grad programs. While we had a strong music contingent at each dinner, we also had folks from English, from Astrophysics, the Institute for Advanced Study, Comp-ltit, Spanish, Art & Archeology, History, from other programs, from town, from neighboring towns, and so on. These were unquestionably a major highlight of my time in graduate school. Carolina and I have hosted a handful since moving first to DC and now to CO (well, none in CO yet…), but the real Nuevo Jerseys belong to a specific time and a specific place. Ironic that here in CO I can get fresh masa with a 30 minute round-trip drive, whereas the one or two times we made tortillas from fresh masa in NJ, we had gone to a tortilleria in Queens earlier that day.
It should go without saying that I’m not proclaiming any expertise in Mexican cuisine. I’ve read many different cookbooks at this point, experimented a lot, and have spent a little time (far too little!!!) in Oaxaca and DF, but come on. A fan, yes. An expert, no way!
Below is a mostly complete list of what the menus were for each of the Nuevo Jerseys.
1) Fruity mole with chicken, beans with collards and dumplings, green chile rice, eggplant with tomato chipotle salsa.
2) Eggs, poblano rajas, tomato chipotle salsa, salsa verde, refried beans, sweet potato
3) Mole amarillo with chicken, tortillas, poblano rajas, refried beans
4) Stuffed poblanos (pork, chipotle tomatillo salsa) achiotte rice, refried beans, tortillas, scrambled eggs (when too many people came)
5) Mole coloradito (too sweet/too much chocolate), tortillas, beans with eggplant, sweet potato, and kale, tomato rice
6) Green mole, pork in adobo, tortillas
7) Mole poblano, tortillas, sweet potato with avocado, chipotle meco, refried beans with eggplant and poblano, chipotle tomato salsa
8) Tamales beans, pork, and sweet potato with chile, prehistoric version), lard one with beans and sweet potato, tamale logs (aka zacahuiles - one vegetarian beans, mole poblano, sweet potato, and one with red chile pork). reried beans
9) (special dinner for Travis) Beans with chorizo and salsa negra (both as add-ins), tortillas, stuffed red poblano (beets, beans, mild chile powder), tomatillo and chipotle, tomato and chipotle, sweet tamale (peanuts, raisins, pumpkinseeds)
10) Manchamanteles mole with chicken, rice (had cilantro and roasted jalapeños as add-ins), tortillas, beans and sweet potato, pasilla de Oaxaca tomato sauce and tomatillo sauce, poblano rajas
11) Pibipollo, pickled red onions, empanadas/quesadilla (guajillo and corn, leftover chicken stuff), poblanos stuffed with red bean and red chile powder, black beans with green chile powder, Yucatan rice, chipotle tomato salsa, pasilla paste, guajillo paste, tortillas
12) Mole poblano with chicken, tamales (cinnamon, peanuts, raisins, pumpkin seeds), salsa verde with kale and navy beans, zacahuiles (black bean and pasilla, pork and beef with guajillo sauce), tortillas
13) Chile apple sauce, black beans with eggplant in butternut squash (one with seared tomato, other with chile from mole poblano), tortillas, chicken in tomatillo chipotle sauce (almost no heat)
14) Mole poblano, black beans, navy beans with cauliflower, virgin tomatillo sauce, pasilla de Oaxaca tomato sauce, tortillas (during Hurricane Sandy, so just Loren and me)
15) Black beans with mole poblano, adzuki(?) beans with eggplant and beet greens, pasilla de Oaxaca tomato sauce, tortillas, meat (veal, pork, beef mix) with spices and ancho, chile apple sauce with beets
16) Black beans, virgin tomatillo sauce, zacahuiles (poblano, kidney beans w/ yucatan seasoning, sweet potato - second one no poblano), manchamanteles mole, chicken, tortillas
17) Yucatan pork, pasilla de Oaxaca and tomato, roasted red bell pepper, tortillas, black bean tamales (rancho gordo beans), Dino kale in bean sauce, 3 kinds of hot vinegar sauce, refried black beans
18) Greens with tomatillo sauce, salsa negra, white runner beans with Yucatan paste, sangre de toro beans when ran out, chicken and beets in guajillo sauce, rajas
19) Loren early bday bash: Mole poblano for bean tamales (one with lard and one prehistoric), zacahuiles (one w chicken and mole and poblano, one with beans sub), tortillas, beans with Yucatan paste (rojo recado) and shit ton of kale, other beans with Swiss chard, chicken and mole poblano (another scramble to find enough food for everybody, lots of unannounced attendees)
20) Pork picadillo, meatballs (used masa instead of breadcrumbs) in Yucatan tomato sauce, red kale in Yucatan tomato sauce, tortillas, scarlet runners in recado rojo, chipotle and tomatillo, sweet potato, guajillo sauce
21) Green rice, Yucatan pork (with sauce), beans and roasted peppers, jicama salad, manchamanteles with sweet potato, beets, and beet greens, tortillas
22) Taco night: Tortillas, pasilla de Oaxaca tomato, pork with sweet potato and tomato, fried black beans, guacomole and sweet potato, rajas
23) Chefathon at Kendrick's: guajillo pork tamales, black bean tamales (a ton of each)
24) Chicken in salsa verde, refried black beans (with and without chorizo), mole poblano, rajas
25) Yucatan pork when Becky was here, green rice, pasilla and ancho chiles and chocolate in beans with eggplant - maybe some other stuff - forgot to write it down
26) Potluck 'no. 25' was at QC's and had sweet tamales (lard and vegetarian) and then QC used Yucatan paste for pork and fish
27) salsa verde, broiled chicken with garlic, oregano, coriander seeds, and thyme, tortillas, beans with ancho, eggplant, and sweet potato, rajas
28) Salsa verde (no chile), chipotle and tomatillo, garlic/oregano chicken, fresh masa tortillas!!! rajas, Yucatan beans, chorizo
29) chilaquiles (mole verde with chicken added, yucatan beans with guajillo sauce), not sure if there was anything else
30) enchiladas with chicken or bean filling, salsa verde and mole poblano, apple sauce with mild chile powder and a few chipotles in there
31) Gracias Giving! mole poblano (with turkey), mole manchamanteles (sweet potato and applesauce), roasted beets/onion/carrot with optional pasilla de oaxaca powder, roasted eggplant with green chile powder, applesauce with green chile powder, sugared tortillas (1.5 Tb to 1 cup masa), tortillas, beans with recado rojo, sweet potato with onion and poblanos
32) pasilla de oaxaca tomato sauce, mole poblano, mole amarillo, chicken, beans, fried sweet plantains, tortillas, peanut and de arbol sauce, roasted cubanelle peppers, eggs and chorizo, (onion, cilantro, cheese, avocado), roasted sweet potato
33) Yucatan pork (and sauce), picked red onions, frijoles con recado rojo, tortillas, taco fixings, queso grosso, mofongo
34) Carnitas, red peanut sauce, nm chiles and pulla sauce, salad, black beans, beets, broiled chicken
35) (Nuevito Jersey) Carnitas, beans, asparagus, tortillas, chipotle tomato sauce, chipotle tomatillo sauce, mofongo
36) Yucatan pork, plum sauce (chipotle, rosemary, thyme, juniper berries), mild and spicy tomatillo/pasilla de Oaxaca, sautéed onion/eggplant/squash with mezcal, beans with platano and butternut squash, pico de gallo (deck chiles), trad sauce for pork (orange juice, apple vinegar, onion, costeno), tortillas
37) Gracias Giving!!! turkey, mole poblano, salsa verde, pasilla de oaxaca tomato, roasted beets, roasted carrot/fennel/butternut squash, eggplant with onion, cabbage, garlic (Caro style), tortillas, beans (lots of cilantro), baked sweet potato mash, peanut and de arbol sauce, cubanelle chiles
38) yucatan pork, beans with recado rojo, salad, tortillas, horchata
39) carnitas, tortillas, veggie w lime, habanero, and orange juice, chilaquiles (in pasilla de oaxaca tomato sauce), spicy peanut sauce, beans, fried plantain
40) mole negro/early QC birthday bash! carnitas, chicken, taco guac sauce, de arbol and vinegar sauce, salad, beans with recado rojo, tortillas, poblanos, pickled red onions