Calcule Girl… A Mexico Story

Liceo Franco Mexicano“Pero Mami yo no quiero aprender frances”…”But mommy I don’t want to learn French,” I protested, as loudly  and vehemently as my seven-year old self could, when I found out I was being taken out of the American School.  I was to start at the Liceo Franco- Mexicano, the French Lycee in Mexico City,  in a couple of weeks.  “You’ll like it Susie, your brothers are going to go there too, but they’ll be in the Mexican section and you’ll be in the French section.”

I became apprehensive and fearful, because I didn’t want to leave my school,  I didn’t want to leave my best friend, Nan Gonzales, and I didn’t want to be separated from my brothers.  “What is the French section?” I asked, “Oh,”  My mom answered,  “It’s the part of the school for very special children…very smart children.  It’s the part where you’re only allowed to learn and speak French.”  “Why aren’t my brothers going to the French section with me?”  “Your brothers will go into the easier part of the school where they will learn a little French and they’ll continue with their Spanish and English.”

“That’s not fair mommy why don’t I get to go to the Mexican section too?”  Her answer, whatever it may have been, made me feel smarter than my two big brothers, but I was still mad and a little heart-broken at leaving my other school and my friends.

The schools my mother chose for us were always with one aim in mind.  Get the best education possible, get as worldly as possible.  At the American School in Mexico City, we learned and daily improved in English, while at the same time keeping up with our Spanish, but the inevitable day came, when we were transferred to the Liceo Franco-Mexicano.  My mother thought that it would be good if I learned French.  It was very becoming of a girl to speak French, she thought.

So, in 2nd grade I was placed directly in the French section, which was complete French immersion.  We were not allowed to whisper or even breathe a hint of a language other than French.  I was not happy but I did pick up the language quite easily.  We wore uniforms of grey skirts and white blouses, and our navy blue sweaters had to have the school emblem sewn on them.  White socks and black shoes were mandatory.

The teachers were strict and never smiled, and particularly disliked me because I was left-handed.  In those days being left-handed was not acceptable and they tried to get me to write with my right hand until my mother told them to stop coercing me.  The principal, a tall bespectacled, big-boned woman, would be called in especially to discipline the mischievous kids by slapping the backs of their hands with a long ruler.  The victims were always, what I thought to be, normal 7 or 8-year-old, energetic boys they didn’t know what to do with.  I made up my mind never to get hit, and I never did.

My teacher was very stern in her black net, which covered her black frizzy hair, that starkly contrasted with her milky white skin. Daily, she wore a crisp and fresh white button down sweater, and she never smiled.  One day I asked her a question and as she leaned over my small pupitre…desk,  I accidentally stained her white sweater with my blue ink pen.  The look she shot at me injured my 2nd grade psyche so badly that I still remember it today, more than 50 years later.

There, in the French section of the Liceo Franco-Mexicano, close to Sears Roebuck, and Company, and across from the  railroad tracks of Polanco, I found that even in French, I loved math…maybe because it was another language altogether.  One day the word came that one child from each grade had been named the best calcule, or math student.  And when my mother  and father screamed with pride, and hugged and kissed me when they found out that I had won the award for “Calcule,”  I felt so happy.  I got a special certificate for being the best math student in the class, and from that day on, and even into adulthood my mother always called me her “Calcule girl.”

Scrambled Eggs with Yucca Flower, Prepared Mexican Style.

Yucca Flower in Bloom Los Angeles is full of Yucca Trees, in fact there is a street in Hollywood called Yucca Street, named so because of the prevalence of the trees with the long and dagger-like  leaves. I am fortunate to have a Yucca tree in my back yard and every so often the top bursts into bloom, and a beautiful cluster of white flowers appears.  For years I never paid much attention, as it would come into bloom and then dry up.  Then, about 15 years ago, our housekeeper Doña Tere asked me to ask our gardener to cut it down because the flower was edible, and a popular  diet staple in Central America.  She prepared it in the style of her native Guatemala.  A few weeks ago when the yucca flower came back into bloom I asked our gardener to cut it down for me.

Click on the above video to see my step by step preparation of Huevos Revueltos A La Mexicana Con Flor De Izote, Scrambled Eggs with Yucca Flower, Prepared Mexican Style.

If you are lucky enough to have a Yucca Tree  (Yucca flowers are also available in Hispanic markets around L.A.), or if you have a friend who does, don’t let that wonderful cluster of flowers go to waste, tell them to have it cut down, and give it to you to prepare the way I did:

1 cluster Yucca Flowers

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/4 cup diced onions

1 serrano pepper chopped (optional)

1/2 cup diced tomatoes

4 eggs beaten with a fork

Salt to taste

1 avocado diced

6 corn tortillas

Serves 3-4

Remove the individual yucca flowers from their stem, and remove the pod from the center of the flowers, soak in water for 10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly.  Bring a quart of salted water to a boil.  Place the yucca flowers in the boiling water, allow to boil 4-5 minutes, and drain.

Heat the olive oil and add the chopped onion.  When the onion begins to shimmer add the serrano pepper, stir for a couple of minutes, then add the yucca flowers, stir again, add the diced tomatoes, and then stir a few more minutes.  Add the  beaten eggs and stir over a medium high heat, until they reach the consistency you prefer.

Serve with diced avocado and warm tortillas, for making tacos.

Enjoy!

Berry Crumble Recipe

Mixed BerriesWhen it comes to baking,  Anita my daughter, is the master .  It was so wonderful having her home for the Passover Seder this year.  We hosted 23 people, and Anita volunteered to make the desserts.  When Anita undertakes a recipe her personality shines through.  She is meticulous and a perfectionist and goes to the market 12 times if necessary.  She adds her own touches and notes any changes or suggestions.   She sets timers to not over-bake for even one second and then she removes the dish from the oven, only when it reaches just the right shade of golden perfection.

Anita made this berry crumble and it was out of this world!  When she made it she didn’t use blackberries but in this version I have added them.  I really like this recipe because it is so pliable.  You can use any combination of berries you choose and if the berries are sweet and in season you can lower the quantity of granulated sugar, or you can omit it altogether and use only the brown sugar.

For Passover Anita used Matzoh cake meal.  In the recipe I post  here, I have adapted it for year round use by switching the  matzoh cake  meal for cake flour.  I have kept the potato starch because I find it binds the crumble very well, plus what do you do with all of that leftover potato starch right?

Click on link to the blog to see video of recipe.

Berry Crumble

Filling:

  • 4 cups strawberries
  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups blueberries
  • 2 cups blackberries
  • zest of one small lemon
  • juice of 1 small lemon
  • 3 tablespoons potato starch
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar (optional)

Crumble Topping:

  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 2/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup potato starch
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 sticks margarine (10 tablespoons) unsalted, very cold, cut into small cubes

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Spray a 9 X 13 baking dish with cooking spray, then place all of the berries in the dish.  Add zest and lemon juice to berries.  Mix together sugars and potato starch in a separate bowl or just add the ingredients directly to the berries and mix gently but thoroughly.

For the topping, mix all of the dry ingredients, then add the cold margarine, working quickly (with your hands) to combine.  The idea is to have some small lumps in the mixture – it doesn’t need to be a uniform dough.  Distribute the topping evenly over all of the berries and bake on the middle oven rack for 35-40 minutes, or until the berries are bubbling and the crumble topping is golden.

Golden Berry Crumble

Serves 16-20

Enjoy!

Mushroom Barley Soup

Mushrooms For Soup

Has the term “comfort food” become a cliché?  Perhaps, but if so, long live the cliché, especially when it comes to Mushroom Barley Soup.  With its rich flavor, thick consistency, and satisfying essence this soup is the epitome of comfort food.  It’s especially comforting on chilly, windy nights.  I make this recipe in a large batch  and then I freeze half of it in quart-sized bags to have handy for a last-minute dinner option.  I have adapted this recipe from a cooking class (Taste of Tradition) I took about 15 years ago.

Click on my video below for step by step instructions for making perfect Mushroom Barley Soup:

 Mushroom Barley Soup

  • 1 cup dried mushrooms of your choice
  • 3 tablespoons margarine
  • 2 large onions sliced
  • 3/4 cup diced carrots
  • 3/4 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup chopped parsley
  • 5 garlic cloves chopped
  • 2 pounds fresh mushrooms (a combination of your choice)
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • Salt to taste
  • 4 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1-1/2 cups barley

Method

Soak dried mushroom in warm water while proceeding with the following steps:

Melt the margarine in a large skillet and saute the onions, carrots, celery, garlic and 1/2 of the parsley.  After 5 minutes add the fresh mushrooms.  Stir and allow them to cook down for about 8 minutes.  Add the flour and stir over medium heat until mixture thickens.

Bring the 4 quarts of vegetarian or chicken stock to a boil in a large soup pot.  gradually add the mushroom mixture to the soup and stir after each addition.

Strain and chop the dried mushrooms and reserve the water in which they soaked.

When soup boils add chopped dried mushrooms along with the water in which they soaked.  Then add the barley.

Simmer covered for 45 minutes to an hour or until barley is tender and the soup has thickened.

Add the remaining parsley, stir and check for further seasoning.

Enjoy!

Serves 20

Passover Chocolate Torte…For Valentine’s Day!

Passover Chocolate Torte

Valentine’s Day is important and meaningful to me and to our family for one reason alone.  Alex, our daughter, and  first of five children, was born on that day!   I had been due to give birth on February 5, 1980.   But Alex was in no hurry.  It was now nearly midnight on  February 12, 1980, and I would be in labor for the next 25 hours.  Alex, my beautiful daughter was born at 12:52 a.m. February 14, 1980, fulfilling all of my dreams to be a mommy.  They brought my little girl to me in a bassinet filled with hearts, and my heart melted as I held my daughter for the first time.

What does all of this have to do with Chocolate Torte you might be wondering.  Well, In 1987, the PTA of Sinai Akiba Academy, the Jewish Day School Alex attended, published a Passover cookbook called Pesach Potpourri which was filled with Passover recipes.  In the cookbook there was a recipe for a Chocolate Torte by Linda G. Mayman, that became Alex’s favorite cake.  When Alex was about ten she started requesting the Torte for her birthday cake.  So every year my Valentine’s girl gets a Passover Chocolate Torte in the shape of a heart.  Over the years I’ve tweaked the recipe here and there, and that is the version I give you here.

Click on the video below for the step by step recipe:

Chocolate Nut Torte

  • 3/4 cup almonds
  • 3/4 cup pecans
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup potato starch
  • 9 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee granules
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1-1/2 sticks unsalted margarine unsalted (room temperature, cut in pieces)
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • dash salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Grease a heart-shaped or round 9 inch cake pan and line the bottom and sides with a piece of parchment paper.  Set aside.  In a food processor grind the nuts together with the sugar until fine.  Add the potato starch to the food processor and pulse a bit to mix it in with the nut mixture.  Remove to a bowl.

In a small saucepan over very low heat, slowly melt the chocolate, coffee granules, brandy and water, stirring until smooth.  Separate the 4 eggs while keeping an eye on the chocolate mixture.  Remove saucepan from heat and stir in the egg yolks.  Return the pan to low heat and stir in the margarine, a few pieces at a time.  Stir until melted, then add the nut mixture and stir until it is melted in.

Beat egg whites with dash of salt until soft peaks form.  Slowly beat in 1/4 cup sugar, and continue to beat until stiff.

Stir a dollop of egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the rest.  Pour into the cake pan and bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove cake from oven and allow it to cool.

Once cool you may freeze the cake or refrigerate it for up to 2 days.  Before serving the cake frost it with the following Chocolate Glaze:

Chocolate Nut Torte Glaze

  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 -2 tablespoons coffee (to your liking)
  • 3 tablespoons margarine
  • Slivered Almonds for garnish

Stir the chocolate and the coffee in a small saucepan over low heat and add the margarine.  Once all of the ingredients are mixed and melted remove from heat.  Allow the mixture to sit for a few minutes and then you may glaze the Torte provided that the Torte has cooled down to room temperature.

Serves 12 – 16

Enjoy!

One Year Later – Remembering My Mom

My beautiful mom.

My beautiful mom.

Dear Readers,

This Blog has never been intended for only recipes.  Herein, are recipes, stories, or a combination of both, that express the essence of life.

A year has swiftly passed since I lost my mother, Martha Schneider.  I thank you for accompanying me through the loss and mourning of my dear mother.

Today I went to her graveside, and here I offer the following thoughts.

Mommy, as I sit here at the place you were laid to rest, I ponder the enormity of your loss.  I struggle with the concept of moving forward and the desperate desire to remember and cling to every detail of our lives together.

Your black cain still hangs on the towel rack where you last left it, one year ago.  It hangs as forlorn and lonely as my heart.  it asks, like I, where have you gone.  The little yellow daisies you so liked, that grow outside your bedroom window, are back in bloom yet they are sad because your eyes cannot rest upon them.  The view you so enjoyed sadly peers backward into the house, also to see where you have gone.

Daddy asks for you each day, where is mom, where is my wife…

It’s so quiet without you mom, yet there is a clamor in my heart, screaming this memory or that.  The memory of a telling glance in which our eyes, without words said how much we loved each other.

As the days and weeks, the months and years, unfold before me, I will write your story, every detail every nuance, for I want to hold it and cradle it and take it in through my very pores so that I never lose it.

That is my biggest fear, forgetting the details, your warm touch, your loving caress, your pretty green eyes, your face.

While my tears pour incessantly on your headstone, as I run my fingers across the bronze letters that spell out your name, I know it’s time to pull myself up and away from this place.  I know I must move forward and remain optimistic and happy, for no one taught me more than you, that life is beautiful.

And so I go now mom, so that I may live that beautiful life, while always remembering you and carrying you in and on my heart every instant that it beats within me.

Fiesta Latkes For Chanukkah!

These fiesta latkes, are spicy, delicious and colorfully festive.  You can accompany them with that good old sour cream and applesauce, or you can do what we did, by accompanying them with a sweet and spicy Jalapeño jelly, or  a schmear of refried beans!

Fiesta Latkes

  • 3 Russet potatoes peeled and quartered
  • 1 carrot peeled
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 onion peeled and quartered
  • 1 Serrano chilli pepper finely minced
  • 1 garlic clove mashed
  • 1/3 cup parsley
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup corn flour – Masa Harina (all-purpose flour or matzoh meal are o.k. too)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
  • Canola or olive oil as needed for frying the latkes

Blanche the potatoes and the carrot in boiling water for three minutes, remove from water and allow them to cool.  Once cool, shred them in a food processor along with the zucchini and onion.  Transfer mixture to a medium-sized mixing bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients, mix well and allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes.

Pour about ¼ cup of oil into a frying pan and heat well.  Take about ¼ cup measurements of mixture and place one by one in the hot oil, flattening out each latke with the back of a spatula.  It will take about 5 minutes for the latkes to brown, then turn them over and brown them on the opposite side.  As each latke is ready remove it to a baking pan lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.

Serve the latkes while still warm.  They may be accompanied by applesauce and or sour cream.  We accompanied them with Jalapeño jelly from the farmer’s market and Crema Mexicana, a delicious Mexican style cream.

This recipe makes about 2 dozen latkes.

Delicious Refried Beans

Refried beans are the ultimate comfort food and they are great as an appetizer with chips or to accompany almost any meal.  I serve them as a side dish with my Tacos, Taquitos, Tostadas, Enchiladas, quesadillas and even with my Chanukkah Latkes!  Just a plain taco of these refried beans in a hot corn tortilla is incredible. My recipe is straightforward..too many ingredients and spices interfere with the pure delicious flavor of the beans.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. package dry black beans
  • 1 onion quartered
  • 2 large garlic cloves whole
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 onions chopped

Method:

Inspect the beans for any small stones or other particles and remove. Place the beans in a strainer and rinse thoroughly with cool water, and then pour them into a bowl and let them soak for 2 hours.

Pour the beans into a pot,  add the quartered onion and garlic cloves and cover with water.  Bring the beans to a boil, then lower to a medium high heat, and allow them to simmer rapidly for about one hour or until they are softened.   It is IMPORTANT that you add water every so often until the beans are cooked.  You want to end up with plenty of bean broth.  When the beans are very tender and edible add salt, stir, and allow to simmer 10 more minutes.

Place canola oil in a large frying pan and heat well.  Add the chopped onions and stirring them constantly allow them to become a very deep golden brown, (almost, but not burnt)

Using a slotted spoon add the beans  to the onions and begin mashing them with a masher, then slowly add the bean broth constantly mixing it in, while at the same time mashing the beans.  The broth will evaporate and as it does add more broth. It is up to you how dry you want your beans.  When I am serving them as an appetizer with chips, I allow the broth to evaporate to the point where they become almost a paste.  If I am serving them as a side dish I leave them a bit moist.  If you find that the beans need more salt add it at this point.

Try out this recipe and let me know how it goes.

Enjoy!

Thanksgiving…Without Mom

Lists written down,  assignments confirmed, shopping trips made – all was put into action like a general about to enter the battlefield, everything was perfectly and strategically planned.   My mother’s Thanksgiving preparation swung into full gear.  This was her holiday.  She was 88 but her mind was sharp. “Susie”, she said to me just a year ago,  “I got the yams and the cranberry sauce and the peas you love.  You’ll make the Guacamole, the stuffing and the salad as usual…what kind of wine does Iche like again? I got all of the kids’ favorite appetizers and oh, I ordered the turkeys from Doheny Kosher, can you just confirm that they’ll be delivered by 2:00 p.m., sliced?  You know how Michael gets impatient with me if I call him too much…”  Those were some of the words uttered by my mother as Thanksgiving approached.

This year Thanksgiving is making me look at loss in the face.  The dull ache somewhere between my stomach and my heart grows more intense as the day approaches.   I feel adrift again without my guide…my mom.    We’ve decided to have Thanksgiving at my mother and father’s house, where we’ve had it for 38 years.   We will affirm life without denying the difficulty of loss, as our family comes together, because it’s what we all want. It will be so hard without my mom, but I know that we honor her memory by being together, a family united at the dining room table with the mirrored wall behind. One by one, we will each rise to say what we are thankful for.  I just know mommy, we will all be thankful for being together, because that was the greatest value you imparted…time shared with those you love.   We will affirm how thankful we all are for having had you in our lives.

May all of you have a beautiful Thanksgiving surrounded by those you love!

Shabbat Dinner for 60 by Susie

Susie with the dishes right before they go out the door (sorry it’s not a great photo)

Hello everyone — Alex here.

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted but I just had to on this auspicious occasion because I don’t think my Mom will brag about it enough! I am so proud of her because she just sent off dinner for 60 people for her first catering job. The event is a young Jewish professionals Shabbat dinner in Santa Monica. Here’s what’s on the menu:

- Best Guacamole & Spicy Salsa Verde

- Fideos (Mexican Lokshen)

- Aztec Portobello & Corn

- Breaded Cauliflower in Tomato Sauce

- Hungarian Roasted Paprika Chicken

- Classic Salad with Red Wine Vinegar Dressing

We will update with photos of the dishes once we receive them after the event.

60 people isn’t too much more than my Mom has done here at the house for one of our Sukkot dinners, so she has the organization before such an event down pat. No hectic moments. It was very cool (and a little odd) to pack it all up in aluminum, label it and send it off. But it was a very happy and proud moment.

Also: I’d like to announce that this is the beginning of our availability as caterers for certain select events around the Los Angeles area!  Please get in touch if you want to discuss at susanak@earthlink.net. 

Thanks as always for reading and sticking with us through our Mexican Jewish journey.