Saturday, July 23, 2011

Come to CASA's Margaritaville

Sip’n vote tonight at the 4th annual CASA Margarita Contest and fundrais
CASA's spectacular roof terrace
Tequila has gone from hooch to haute and lately mescal is not far behind. Tonight (July 29. 2011) about 25 of San Miguel’s top restaurants will show just how serious they are about crafting the best margarita for you. And you will be the judge for choosing the best. If one of your personal missions would be to find out who serves the best margarita in town, visiting all the different restaurants might be a daunting task. However, tonight you can try all of them in one sitting under one roof, to be exact, on the roof of the CASA (Center for Adolescents of San Miguel A.C.) facility in Santa Julia with its breathtaking 360 view. There will be live music to dance to, botanas created just for the occasion by yours truly, door prizes and fabulous auction items.
CASA has a special reason to celebrate this year; the organization has been in operation for 30 years. If you ask why celebrate with a margarita contest, here is my personal view. The German author Goethe ended one of his most famous poems with (my rough translation): “daily work-evening guests, dour weeks-happy fiestas, this be your future magic words” (Tages Arbeit, abends Gäste! 
Saure Wochen, frohe Feste! 
Sei dein künftig Zauberwort). It is my life’s motto. Nadine Goodman the founder of CASA who is originally from New York, has relentlessly worked long days and many hard weeks and years to realize her extraordinary vision of providing a better life for mainly adolescents and single mothers in her adopted home of San Miguel de Allende. However, the fiestas have been far apart.
In a way that is why I think a margarita festival is a wonderful way to celebrate. Tequila is Mexico’s national beverage and I see a parallel with the development of CASA and the production of Tequila, seriously I do, read on. 
  -Producing tequila or mescal is very hard work and takes years of endurance and patience. The agave from which tequila or mescal is made can take up to 8-12 and sometime 20 years to grow before it is ready to be harvested. It has to withstand droughts, pests and rot in all those years. 

  -CASA has endured strong resistance to its juvenile pregnancy prevention efforts, domestic violence awareness and gender discrimination. 
  -Once the agave is ready to be harvested, its spiny leaves are cut off, making the core look like a pineapple. These are then placed in big ovens where they are steam-cooked. 
  -When CASA started its midwife-training program, it was put through the steamer for years with strong opposition from the medical field.
  -After this, the steamed and crushed agave cores are left to ferment. 
  -CASA persevered and kept all of its programs going. 
  -The final process is distilling the fermented agaves into the pure spirits that is Tequila or Mescal. 
  -CASA now, after 15 years of hard work, is the first and only midwife school in Mexico to grant a professional certificate to its graduating students. 

Good things take time, so sip your tequila slowly and don’t ask for aged tequila, as you can see it has already aged in the plant.
A fond thought also goes out to Miss Margarita, whoever she was, for being the inspiration for one of the most popular cocktails on the planet. Tonight the classic version will compete side by side with new exotic versions. There will also be non-alcoholic beverages offered for the designated drivers. Come and join the fun and cast your vote for the best. Be a CASA supporter.       

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rice is Nice

“Rice Is Nice,
that's what they say,
Rice Is Nice,
throw some my way,
Rice Is Nice on any day,
Twice as nice when violins play.

Rice is Nice by The Lemon Pipers

The lyrics to this popular 1960s song refers to having rice thrown at you at your wedding. This is an ancient custom, symbolizing good wishes of fertility and for a bountiful new life together.
 Rice grains
Now when served a portion of rice, one rarely thinks about the importance rice has played in the history of civilization. It is one of the oldest cultivated grains in the world. As with any transition for humankind from hunter-gatherers to farmers, it was the beginning of a civilization.

Here in the Americas the same occurred with the cultivation of maize (corn). Both grains were taken on a global journey and became an integral food in most countries of the world. Corn and rice with wheat are today the worlds most widely grown grains.

Rice has its origins in China; from there it was taken to all Asian countries and India. Alexander the Great supposedly brought rice to Greece where it was named oryza. I think any food that traveled from Asia to Europe that we have no clear records of, for example, pasta, got shoved into Alex’s luggage. Whichever way, rice moved on to North Africa and with the Moors from there to Spain. The Arabic word for rice, al-ruz, became the Spanish arroz.

When rice was introduced to Mexico by the Spanish explorers through the port of Veracruz, the climate in this coastal area proved to be ideal for growing rice. To this day, the state of Veracruz is the largest producer of rice in Mexico.

As with many other foods introduced to the New World, rice soon was flavored with the native tomatoes, chiles and corn. Combined with Old World onions, garlic, peas and carrots, sprinkled with the Chinese import of cilantro, rice became a culinary favorite and one of Mexico’s signature rice dishes.
Arroz a la Mexicana
 Rice also became a menu staple as sopa seca (dry soups), the equivalent of the Italian pasta course, sopa aguada (wet soups) and and accompaniment to the main course. For dessert, rice was served as arroz con leche (rice pudding).

Fast forward to the present with the alarming rise in incidents of obesity and diabetes in Mexico. The government has begun a nationwide campaign to promote increasing the consumption of rice, including the addition of fresh vegetables and fruits. Despite the assumption that the Mexican diet consists of rice, beans and corn, its rice consumption is very low compared to other countries. Asian countries consume about 400 pounds of rice per capita, the USA about 24 pounds and Mexico only 17 pounds.

Rice has lost its appeal in restaurants and the upper middle class desires the more trendy pasta. No offense against pasta, but it can’t hold a nutritional candle to rice. Rice, is with no doubt, a super food.

If you are in a rice rut (it is not a disease) then look to all the fabulous ways rice can be prepared from recipes the world over. Grilled Japanese rice balls, risotto, rice omelets, rice cake, horchata (rice drink) and then some.

Come join me at this Saturday’s Fiesta Arroz, Pan y Vino at 1:30 PM where I will help you to get out of your rice rut by showing new, exciting and easy ways to prepare nice rice.

Published as an article in La Atención, San Miguel de Allende, July 1. 2011