Diana invited Mary to bring a group of students to her home in Zitacuaro,Michoacan Mexico, for a week of cooking. I helped organize a group of six. Five women and one man. All of us were very involved with Tante Marie's and got along wonderfully. Heidi Krahling graduated from Mary's 9 month program.
She is Chef-owner of the very successful "Insalata's" insalatas.com and "Marinitas"marinitas.net restaurants in San Anselmo, Ca. Paula Lambert was working as a sales rep for Greenleaf Produce, greenleafsf.com the first organic farm to kitchen produce company in San Francisco, Cindy Mushet cindymushet.com , graduated from Tante Marie's pastry program and was just starting out working in bakeries and now has published 3-4 award winning books. Tom Worthington, the lone male is co owner of Monterey Fish montereyfish.com a sustainable- "be kind to the ocean" company and one of the first of it's kind in the Bay Area. He supplies all of the top chefs as well as teaches "fish mongering" at Tante Marie's. Mary and I rounded out the group. I don't have a link but taught classes as well as developed the catering department. I kept a journal and will post excerpts from it. It was quite a week and we were all exhausted at the end but satiated with Diana's wonderful cuisine and knowledge of life in Mexico.
The year was 1992 before the major drug cartels moved into parts of Mexico. There were small cells of drug traffickers in Zitacuaro that Diana alluded to. She referred to the "brash element" of rich Middle Easterners who had moved to the area, bought expensive cars and indulged in drugs.
We took United Airlines to Mexico City and Diana's driver picked us up, schlepped our heavy bags into the van (we were required to bring her cookbooks with) and off we went for the 3 1/2 hr drive to "Casa Diana". We were all starving so the driver stopped in Toluca for street stand tacos and soft drinks ( no cervezas unfortunately). The tacos were some sort of tripe sausage and "res"(meat).We loved them!
Diana met us at Rancho San Cayetano, the motel that would be our home for the week. As it was after 11 pm, we were quite surprised to see her there. Andre Claude, the proprietor, a French-Vietnamese man, had hot spinach soup with crusty rolls waiting for us. Finally we were here! It was July and I expected a tropical climate, quite the opposite. Zitacuaro is a mountainous town and it cools down rapidly after the sun sets. Diana warned us of "damp sheets" as they do not have dryers here. They are "supposed to iron them dry" meaning good luck with that one. It was a charming motel and each room was different but had the same 1960's bedspreads with blocks of chartruese, brown and orange. French doors opened up to a concrete ledge with a field of weeds in back. I kept mine locked. It was pretty chilly sleeping as the outside temps dropped into the 40's.
The" first day" of class was Sunday, a matter of contention later in the week. Everyone was in the dining room of Rancho San Cayetano devouring Chilaques with eggs when I got there. Much too early for me so I opted for the most flavorful melon and crusty rolls with a local jam which I learned later was "green peach" jam. At 9:30 Diana rolled up in her yellow pickup truck with a camper shell. She was relieved that none of us got sick from the street tacos the night before. It took awhile for the six of us to get it together but we piled in and off to the central market we went. So far so good.
Our first impression of Zitacuaro was that it was basically a sloppy town. It is "blue collar" mechanics heaven! Auto parts were abundant along the sidewalks, VW dealerships abounded. This changed when we saw that the square was large, clean and crowded. Diana warned us not to wear shorts. She didn't want any trouble with the local riff raff. We trailed along with Diana as she picked up food for our classes pointing out different herbs, greens, mushrooms and much more. Paula was the bookeeper, keeping track of what Diana spent and I took pictures of the most interesting people and their wares.
Heidi, Diana, Cindy and Tom looking over the garlic and other vegetables.
We stopped back at the motel to collect belongings and use the bathrooms. That started to try Diana's patience. No one had everything gathered at once and had to keep running back for things. She casually mentioned that there were bugs that attacked your armpits and crotch, did we remember to bring insect repellent? Off we all went back to our rooms to douse ourselves then back to the truck, she then said it is sure to rain, do your need your raingear? Everyone didn't think so- she said "you do if you plan to go outside"! Back to our rooms for raingear. By that time she was calling someone, or her truck " a pain in the ass" her piercing brown eyes blazing. It wouldn't be the last time we saw those brown eyes flaring. Unfortunately Heidi mentioned she was pregnant and she actually was hesitating even coming down here but her Dr. assured her it would be okay. Diana started picking on her immediately maybe thinking she would be the "weak one" who would hold everyone up. This did not happen. Anyway we pile into the truck for the trek up to her house. At one point we had to bale out so she could get it over the dip at the end of the driveway. I was looking forward to walking from the Rancho to her Casa the rest of the week!
We finally arrive to "Casa Diana". What a thrill for me. It was very Mexican in architecure and landscape. She explained that "modern landscape" strips the land of all trees and native plants whereas she is trying to preserve them. The Mexican Government awarded her its highest honor-the order of the Aztec Eagle for her enviornmental efforts.
As we approach the entrance to her house there is a vicious dog (one of many) to greet us. She assures us he is locked up. Her Shelton Terrier ie pit bull of five months jumps all over us with joy. She is named Chespa but Mary calls her Cream Puff! After a tour of the grounds and descriptions of the fruits and vegetables we commence cooking. Now, Diana is a no nonsense person, strict about following her recipes to the letter and only wants serious students in her classes. No talking allowed while she is, no drifting off and absolutely no improvising!! Her recipes work and are delicious. She is trying to preserve these old recipes before they are lost to modern fast food ways. She requested that we refrain from taking pictures of her interior living quarters ( which were very beautiful in a rustic way). Later we are allowed to photograph pictures of the food and kitchen area which was the best part, in my opinion and I took alot of pictures. Her house is built around huge boulders-actual rocks were in the living room. Lavatory facilities are outside with a barrel of rainwater for flushing and cedar branches for a floor. It was great! There were stands with bowls of water that contained an antiseptic solution that we washed our hands in as well as the fruits and vegetables outside the kitchen.
We commenced a rather chaotic afternoon of cooking. Heidi was really tired, Cindy was famished, the electricity went out due to the thunderstorm that was rumbling outside. She sent Mary and one of the kitchen helpers out in the truck. in the thunderstorm, to go back to the Rancho and tell Andre to call the electric company. 30 minutes later Mary returned without the truck, soaked and not very happy. They had driven through a deep puddle and stalled the truck. I had to sympathize with her as I would have never driven Diana's truck to begin with. As it turned out Miguel, the helper had run down to Andre's and all was being taken care of...except it was Sunday and no one was at the power plant to turn the electricity on. The generator worked for an hour or two until it got too hot and turned off. So...much of the day was spent with Diana fretting about no electricity and swearing at the Electric Company for not having anyone there.
There were techniques in the food preparation that required blenders or grinders so we improvised with our knives and molecates (mortar and pestles). She wasn't satisfied with the end results..so much for that!
We sat down to eat or rather "commence eating "at 4:30 or so. Here is what we prepared that day,
Sope de Guias-Squash Blossom Soup with Clavitos
Saute onions &garlic until sweated, add 1#sliced mushrooms(clavitos), cover until juices are released, remove cover and reduce juices. Add cut up squash blossoms x 4 bu. (if they are "male" blossoms remove the outer green parts as they are bitter). Dice round pale green squash x 3. Take sweet corn off the cob x2. Roast, peel and tear into strips 2 Chiloca Chiles,one of many new delicious chiles that we used.
Have 6 c chicken stock simmering and add mushrooms, squash blossoms,chiles & zucchini. Season with a large sprig of Epazote ( I love this herb and have been growing for 20 yrs or so). Let simmer 30-40 min. Taste for flavor, add corn and salt.
This was followed by Carnitas which is a recipe straight out of "The Cuisines of Mexico" pg 112-113
While making this we rendered lard in the oven at 350* in heavy skillets. Wonderful stuff!
Diana's kitchen helpers, Vera and Sonia made the blue corn tortillas. Salsa Fresca was served with the Carnitas. See previous blog for the Salsa Fresca recipe or rather technique.
Diana's Guacamole was made in a molecate, a simple preparation of grinding 1 serrano chile, 1/4 white onion, a few sprigs of cilantro leaves and a pinch of salt to a paste, mash in an avocado. Peel, seed and chop a tomato and stir that in along with 1 tbsp chopped onion. No lime or other spices are needed. We spooned this into blue corn tortillas with a green called Papaloquelitz=the butterfly greens as that is what the leaves resemble. They were smooth, dark green and good for digestion, according to Diana, plus very good tasting.
We made Mexican Rice from the book but her guidance and descriptions of the cooking process were priceless: Pour boiling water to cover over 1c.white long grain rice. Rinse once and shake dry. Fry the rice in chicken fat until it pops " like dried beans out of a pod". In a blender, grind 2-3 ripe tomatoes with 1/2 chopped white onion ( no yellow onions here). Add to the rice and fry until the whole is dry and practically sticking to the pan. Add sliced or diced carrot and fresh peas. Pour stock or water over to cover by 1/2" add salt and stir. Cook until holes appear on top. Test for tenderness without stirring, add more liquid if necessary. Cover and let steam 5 min.. Turn off heat and let sit 5 min. more or until ready to serve. Fluff and serve.
And that Ladies and Gents is exactly how I make my rice to this day but substitute peanut oil if I don't have chicken fat but I don't tell Diana.
|Mushrooms, chiles, black avocados|
|Squash blossoms, cactus paddles and the butterfly greens|
I think she is a friend of Diana's and very happy to see those pesos