Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mexico comes to my home in Warsaw

You live each day by the principles that have guided you throughout your life and mine surely include a deep appreciation for the mixing of peoples. From my early childhood years at the U.N. International school in New York, to my adulthood movement between cultures, I've come to thrive when those around me are not all of one similar background.

Living in the U.S. now, I admire all that the south-of-the-border Latin culture brings to this country.  The music, food, language, the social habits --I've profited from being exposed to them.

So of course, if I'm to share in Poland a bit of my life in America, it is obvious that I will want to cook up a dinner in Warsaw that has an eye toward Mexico.

Good, Mexican food in Europe is a rare thing. You'd be hard pressed to find a spicy chili sauce in a grocery store of Poland and don't think that's just Poland: you'd be hard pressed to find such sauces (in abundance in every American supermarket) in France. (I finally did find just one in the grand food halls of the Bon Marche, only to have it confiscated at the airport! Damn! I must improvise!)

The plan is simple: cook up a Mexican storm, play good Mexican music, and let the rhythms of the night take hold.

But first thing's first: I wake up to a beautiful spring day in Warsaw. My street is dappled with spring sunlight!


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Even before breakfast, I hurry to my local green grocer (who boasts organic foods on the shelf and the freshest of produce in the vicinity) to pick up stuff that I've put off buying until the last moment: beautiful lettuces, cucumbers, tomatoes and a crate of berries.

I want to take this store with me back to Wisconsin! I love the care they give to the vegetables. And I love the fact that I only casually asked at the beginning of the week if they'd be getting fresh berries in on Friday (they come from Spain) and the lovely couple put aside the crate that I wanted, just in case I did show up in the morning (I said I'd be shopping then).


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Immediately after breakfast, I set to work. The menu is simple -- or, it would be simple if I had my pots and pans and my trusty stove and if I could properly understand the way that my Polish oven functions. I cheated and brought jars of salsa from Whole Foods. The guacamole I can make here. I've been ripening avocados all week.


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The main course;  shredded chicken in tomato-chili sauce, with corn tortillas (again, from Madison), rice and beans, and a salad, because I am a nut about salads. The dessert -- a Rick Bayless strawberry tres leches shortcake.

I start with the cake and stumble over combining ingredients -- no, Mr. Bayless, I don't have a paddle attachment to a stand-up mixer here! Indeed, I don't even have a stand-up mixer. I am determined to keep things simple in my apartment. If a Mexican cook can make a tres leches cake without the modern gadgets, so can I!

(A mixture of ingredients -- from Madison and Warsaw...)


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On the other hand, I am all about presentation: in the course of the morning, I decide that I cannot hope to serve margaritas without martini glasses. I come up with all sorts of justifications: I will become a mixologist and bring with me a repertoire of interesting cocktails during future visits. I will support the glass making industry in Poland (we are famous for glass products here). I will surely not regret the investment.

Ah, but finding martini glasses in a city where the drink of choice for a long time had been something that can be chilled in a freezer and downed in one gulp -- now that's a challenge!

Instead of concentrating on the meal, I ride the trams and buses of Warsaw, chasing down one lead after the next.


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And I find them. And they're beautiful and Polish. And now I am severely behind in my prep plans.

On the upside, it really is a gorgeous day and I have a chance to stick my foot in the park, loaded down with twelve martini glasses (I only need ten, I tell the vendor... another customer intervenes -- Pani kochana, but what if one breaks??). Not yet as green as Paris, but surely giving signs of new life.



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(The classic Polish grandma: on a day like this, you see a lot of them.)


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A quick coffee break at home (as seen through the new martini glasses)...


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And now I get crazy busy and I can only say that if it wasn't for my sister, we may not have ever eaten anything but the guacamole, salsa and the tres leches cake. With margaritas out of very beautiful martini glasses.

My sister is an excellent sous chef. She does everything you ask her and she does it with decades of kitchen experience. And I've had years of practice bossing my daughter around when she helps me cook, so I've become good at giving directions!


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I set the table quickly. Things look deceptively ready when a table is ready.


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And then the guests arrive -- the usual wonderful crowd of friends and the evening moves to full speed ahead!

The men take over the margarita shaking, salting and pouring (thanks, Rick Bayless, for your terrific "honest to goodness margaritas for a crowd" recipe), the women have their glasses freshly topped on demand.


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Come eat now!


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And then I put my Sony down because I am just too busy moving between stove and and friends to think photo thoughts.

But, as is so often the case during these evenings, a friend will pick up my camera and take over and so these next pictures are not my own work (notably those where I am present). I'll post just four, under the theme: it was a lively and beautiful  evening!


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Perhaps the gaiety goes to our heads (I mean, how can you not laugh when your hostess volunteers to give a demonstration on how to cut a guy's eyebrows -- assuring the victim that she's had lots of experience doing just this task back at the farmette!), but before the evening comes to an end, we are hatching plans for this group of great friends to come visit me en masse in the U.S.!  You never know! (Are you ready, Ed?)

2 comments:

  1. About a year into my first stay in Poland, when I was in-country from 1996 to 1998 straight, I got such a craving for Mexican food that I determined that I must figure something out. This was 1997 in a small village in the south, mind you -- there was almost nothing but potatoes, cabbage, onions, and the like. I got a recipe for tortillas from a friend: flour, salt, lard, warm water. I had those ingredients available in abundance. As for the beans, I improvised with the closest thing I could find. I didn’t know what “pinto bean” might be in Polish, and I didn’t know if they’d have them anywhere, so I went by appearance alone. The salsa was a trick. I had tomatoes and onions. That was about it. I bought some papryka thinking it might approximate some kind of spice, knowing at the same time that it would add flavors I didn’t need. Chili peppers in any form, of course, were out of the question. On a subsequent trip to Krakow I found some Cayenne pepper that I thereafter guarded with my life, but on that cold November Saturday, I had to make do. It took me a couple of hours and about three batches of dough to get the tortillas edible. The salsa was a disaster, as were the beans, but I ate it with such joy.

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  2. my favorite photo is that last one...so good to see the two of you together. xx

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