food

Frida Kahlo Sushi Roll: Only in New Mexico

Advertisement for Frida (Kahlo) sushi roll inside Japanese restaurant.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Advertisement for Frida (Kahlo) sushi roll inside Japanese restaurant with Mexican sushi chef. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

I love living in Las Cruces, NM.  As a transplant from Los Angeles, CA, delicious incongruities catch my eye, such as a sushi roll named after internationally renowned Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo.

I asked my waiter what ingredients had the Mexican sushi chef included to make this Japanese treat relate to Frida?  He explained, “Spicy hamachi (yellow tail) on the inside, plain hamachi on the outside, with jalapeños, sriracha sauce and cilantro.”  Hot, hot, hot!

Those ingredients seem appropriate in describing the famous artist whose memorable unibrow, stormy marriage/divorce/ remarriage to famed muralist Diego Rivera, and colorful lifestyle became the subject of a 2002 American film, “Frida,” starring Salma Hayek.

Other surprising food combos pertinent to Southern New Mexico have captured my eye and my palate.  One of my favorites is green chile frozen custard.  The local frozen custard stand cooks the chiles with sugar to the consistency of marmalade resulting in a sweet yet piquant sauce that tops the frozen custard.  Addicting!

Green chile beer doesn’t do much for me, but I love the flavor of pecan beer.  And what about chile pecan brittle?  Fantastic.

Hatch green chile burgers sold at Sparky’s are legendary and a must visit when entertaining out-of-state visitors.  Now that this establishment has been named the third best hamburger stand in the country, regular trips there have become mandatory.

At my local wild bird supply shop, they sell chile bird seed.  “Doesn’t the heat negatively affect the birds,” I asked?  “Not at all,” the owner assured me.  She also told me that a benefit occurs after the birds eat the seeds.  What passes through them keeps away the squirrels.

In California, I frequently ate enchiladas, but eating them New Mexico style is a wonderment.  New Mexico writer and cultural vortex, Denise Chávez, introduced me to the local tradition.  At first, enchiladas with a fried egg on top seemed strange until the yolk ran out, mingled with the cheese-filled red-sauced tortillas creating a yummy combination of flavors.  Nowadays, that’s the only way I eat them.

Norine Dresser is a folklorist whose physician, to her dismay, has recently warned, “Lay off the chiles!”

customs/rituals, Festivals, folklore, food, good luck/bad luck, holidays

GUNG HAY FAT CHOY! (Happy New Year)

L. A. Chinatown New Year's goods for sale.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
L. A. Chinatown New Year’s goods for sale. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

 

Las Cruces, NM, supplies all my needs except one — GOOD CHINESE FOOD. True, they have a few Chinese restaurants here, but they mainly offer food that has been sitting in steam tables for hours.

Good Chinese food is always freshly made to order. That is why, when I recently returned to Los Angeles, eating at a Chinese restaurant was my number one priority. Gorging on fresh pork dumplings, pea sprouts, and beef rolls, I devoured the perfect fix.

I was also fortunate to have visited during the 2015 Lunar New Year. As I eyed all the new souvenirs I heard myself skeptically say, “Probably made in China.” Duh, I should hope so.

Chinese monk shopping for New Year's.  L. A. Chinatown.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.
Chinese monk shopping for New Year’s. L. A. Chinatown. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015.

When our children were young, we always brought them to Chinatown for the excitement, parade, and firecrackers. That was part of our family tradition, but I was reminded one year that I was an outsider.

During the festivities, I ran into a neighbor at a souvenir shop and when she left, I merrily said, “Happy New Year, Marie,” to which my offended salesperson retorted, “It’s not YOUR New Year.”

But ALL New Year’s celebrations are mine regardless of religion or ethnicity. I love the anticipation, the colorful rituals, the special clothing and colors, the feelings of hope that the new year will be an improvement over the last.  These emotions are universal and should be shared.

Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram.  Fake fireworks.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015
Los Angeles Chinatown, Year of the Ram. Decorative firecrackers. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2015

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who enjoys celebrating holidays — everyone’s holidays.

food, food taboos, health

GLUTEN FREE OLIVES

In a Second City skit, a young man sits on a chair and the young woman sitting next to him confides, “I’m gluten intolerant.”

“What does that mean?” queries the young man.

“I’m a member of the upper middle class,” she explains.

###

The audience guffawed, especially me because I have become increasingly amused at the supermarket when I observe all the “gluten free” signs below foods that naturally do not have gluten. Gluten comes from wheat, so why would olives be affected? Or peanut butter? Or mayonnaise?

 

Gluten Free labels at the supermarket.  Photos and montage by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Gluten Free labels at the supermarket. Photos and montage by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

 

Do all these gluten free labels appear because the supermarket managers and food  manufacturers don’t know or are they merely playing their customers – cashing in on the latest food trend? It is true that those with celiac disease must avoid gluten in order to maintain good health. However, only 1% of the U.S. population has celiac disease, so that doesn’t explain the proliferation of “gluten free” foods on the shelves.

That reminds me of when, a few decades ago, shoppers began avoiding caffeine. What ensued was an explosion of “Caffeine Free” labels.   I was regularly tickled by the “caffeine free” label on 7-Up cans. Of course, they were caffeine free because caffeine is found in colas not 7-Ups. These tactics make me wonder, “Do they think we shoppers are that naive?” And although these erroneous gluten-free signs make me chuckle, they also offend me because they are assuming customer witlessness .

Sometimes markets are merely ignorant, for example, on Jewish New Years when they feature holiday foods, invariably they seem to include boxes of matzos. Managers seem to be unaware that matzos are particular to Passover rituals in the spring and not during the fall New Year (Rosh Hashonah) celebrations.

When discussing the “gluten free” omnipresence with other skeptics, one friend threatened that he would like to approach a superstore manager and ask, “Can you please direct me to the Gluten Department?”

I wonder what would happen if he did?

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is not gluten intolerant and even savors hearty wheat bread and pastries.

 

customs/rituals, folklore, food, good luck/bad luck, Uncategorized

“Next Time, Order the Shrimp!” Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Bowl of opened fortune cookies.  Photo by Mariah Chase.  © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.
Bowl of opened fortune cookies. Photo by Mariah Chase. © Norine Dresser photo collection, 2014.

Even though most of us are aware that fortune cookies are a faux Chinese custom invented in the U.S., we wait in suspense to open these rice cake treats when dining in Chinese restaurants.

Especially for children.  For a while, my husband and I fooled our offspring until they learned to read.  The toddlers would excitedly hand Harold their cookie fortunes and invariably he would pretend to slowly decode them and then intone, “Honor your father and your mother, and you will have good luck.”  We couldn’t get away with that for long.

In Los Angeles, I frequently visited Chinatown and once stopped in at a Chinese Fortune Cookie factory.  The process intrigued me  — batter automatically poured onto small circle griddles and when the fragrant aroma indicated that they were cooked, they were mechanically folded into fortune cookie shapes.  The process mesmerized me, yet I can’t remember at what stage they inserted the fortunes.

Most of us are familiar with the old fashioned predictions, “You will soon take a long journey,” but fortunes like the irreverent one in my title, “Next time, order the shrimp,” cause a vision of Chinese fortune cookie writers going off the deep end.  Or perhaps, the new kinds of fortune cookie writers are simply more daring and realistic.

“There is no problem.  It’s only your stupidity.”

“Keep it simple.  The more you say, the more people won’t remember.”

Even though wer realize that the fortunes are just hokum created by some anonymous writers, more likely based in Brooklyn than Beijing, we have hopes that a startling pronouncement will elate us and renew our optimism about the future.

There’s nothing wrong with that.  That’s why we scan our horoscopes, have our palms read or tarot cards interpreted.

Even on the brink of 83 years, I confess that I still look forward to reading my fortune and grab the cookie that conveys that it is destined only for me.  So far, I have avoided selecting this one of the contemporary variety.

“I cannot help you, for I am just a cookie.”

Norine Dresser is a folklorist who believes that at almost 83, tomorrow still holds promise.

food, health

From Naive 1950s Newlywed to Savvy Great-Granny Certified Medical Marijuana Consumer

I tried to appear nonchalant as I strolled the supermarket aisles looking for the location of brownie mixes.  Nonetheless, I felt self-conscious.  It reminded me of when, as a teen, I bought my first sanitary napkins or later, when I purchased condoms and feminine hygiene products.

Brownie baked with medical marijuana.  © Norine Dresser, photo collection, photo by Mariah Chase, 2014.
Brownie baked with medical marijuana. © Norine Dresser, photo collection, photo by Mariah Chase, 2014.

Who will know what I’m doing?  Will they care what a cane-dependent 82-year-old is tossing into her shopping cart?  Of course not, but in the middle of furtive first acts, paranoia runs high.

Speaking of high, that is exactly what I am NOT seeking.  Instead, I am looking for pain relief.  I have tried everything else but without lasting success: acupuncture, epidural injections under sedation, massage, chiropractic adjustments, herbs, poultices, and worst of all Vicodin.

I used to wake up in the morning in pain with tingling and numbness in my left leg and foot necessitating analgesics and the use of a heating pad.  Involuntary sounds of “ooh, ooh, ooh” escaped me as I hobbled about.  During the day I couldn’t walk very far before leg and back pain forced me to sit down and rest, and by suppertime, the pain struck my upper legs.

Then someone suggested that I try cannabis, medical marijuana, as a pain killer.  Now thanks to ingesting it before bedtime, I can just hop out of bed without discomfort and head directly for the coffee pot.

My family has had such a good time at my expense.  My son calls me “pot-head” and my brother addresses me as his “stoner-sister.”  I laugh with them because I am so grateful to have found something that brings relief.

The delicious irony of all this is that when our children were hippies, my late husband and I constantly warned them about the fictitious danger of using pot.  Naively, we advised, “Just say no.”  Now they are laughing at me and asking, “What would Dad have thought about your taking marijuana?”

My guess is that he would support my decision to take a pain killer that is less toxic than prescribed narcotics, has few side effects, and offers reprieve from suffering.

 

Norine Dresser is a folklorist, award-winning columnist for the Los Angeles Times and retired university faculty member: www.norinedresser.com