The Power of the Kitchen and the Community

I was struck when listening to a report on NPR about Soviet kitchens and their role in the fomentation of political and cultural exchange. Once  private kitchens were created, everyday people were less afraid to bring out their inner artist, writer, thinker, debater, and creator in the privacy of their homes. I loved the description of Russia as a taste: sourness. (Does Chicago have a “taste?”)

For us at Meso, it was great to hear about the exchange of ideas – however  clandestine – in a way that provided real community. We are really interested in how food and kitchens build community and provide for cultural exchange: whether it is at a small family meal, a large school potluck, or neighbors at a block party. Sometimes we take for granted how much food can bring people together and discuss differences and find commonalities.

Which reminded me of my own family and the connections to food-built communities. In the 1930s, my abuelo and other members of my family were involved in a movement in Texas to support workers, many of which were kitchen workers. Although there were labor unions, Latinos were largely kept out. The pictures below are from one of the conventions. Latino workers from places like Texas, Kansas, and Minnesota came together to find strength in their community, and work towards common goals. My abuelo, who worked in a cookie factory, was actually kicked out of the United States for a time because of his organizational efforts. I was really interested in the parallels of  my abuelo’s story, and the disadvantaged people of Soviet Russia, coming together into communities, taking actions big and small.

The role of labor in food industry is also something Meso wants to discuss more in the future. Stay tuned.

If you would like to learn more about the Mexican labor movement in the United States, we recommend Juan Gómez-Quiñones book Mexican American Labor, 1790-1990.

How has food played a role in your family or community? Please share.

Confederación de Camaras, January 1936 - Dallas, Texas

Confederación de Camaras, January 1936 – Dallas, Texas

Confederación de Camaras, January 1936 - Dallas, Texas

Confederación de Camaras, January 1936 – Dallas, Texas

Confederación de Camaras, January 1936 - Dallas, Texas

Confederación de Camaras, January 1936 – Dallas, Texas



Meso Reads

Some things we are thinking about at Meso:

  • WBEZ has a report on the street food vendor proposal in Chicago.
  • A delicious sounding taco recipe from a New York food truck vendor.
  • We were sad to hear Chicago’s famous Hot Doug’s is closing this fall. Here is an infographic with the best times to get your last fix of those amazing duck fat fries.
  • Someone on Twitter is also working on a biscuit with chorizo gravy. Drool…

Stay tune for some major summer announcements from Meso!


Ask and Receive

Josh, our new friend and bartender at Sable, whipped up this velvety-delicious cocktail for us after we asked about the Aztec Chocolate Bitters behind the bar. He added amaro, mezcal, tequila, and sweet vermouth, and called it “The Drink I Just Made for You.”meso-cocktail-sable
1/2 oz. Carpano Antica
1/2 oz. Amaro Averna
1 1/2 oz. Vida Mezcal
1/2 oz. Corralejo Tequila Reposada
2 dashes Azteca Chocolate Bitters
Stir and serve with a maraschino cherry.

Smoky, fragrant, chocolatey but not sweet, and strong as hell, we called this drink “Under the Volcano.”

Make yourself a cocktail and read Anthony Bourdain’s powerful article by the same name on the US’s contradictory, untenable relationship to Mexico. More on that soon.

Zucchini Blossom Lasagna

We are extremely grateful (and full) for our guest chef Jessica Soto Smith’s contribution to Meso, a very special roasted poblano and zucchini blossom lasagna. We present our top-rated recipe:

Zucchini Blossom Lasagna
1 16 oz jar of zucchini blossoms
5 poblano peppers
2 large onions
16 oz cream
2 cups corn
1 tbs butter
8 oz mushrooms
2 zucchini
2 boxes lasagna
2 cups half and half
2 cups shredded Chihuahua cheese
4 cloves garlic
salt & pepper to taste

Boil lasagna and set aside. Saute mushrooms, sliced onions, zucchini flowers and zucchini. Set aside. Roast the poblano peppers, peel, and slice and add to mushroom mix. In a saucepan, saute garlic and butter until fragrant and add cream, keep under a boil and then blend. Add the corn and set aside.

To assemble:
Put a ladle full of sauce in the bottom of ungreased 9×13 pan. Add layers of cream, lasagna, veggies, cheese. Repeat layers until out of ingredients.

Bake 1 hour in preheated 375 degree oven covered in foil, and remove foil for the last 15  minutes of cooking.meso-lasagna_01
We love that Jessica featured squash blossoms in this recipe, a beautiful and versatile ingredient that, she noted with disappointment, is often overlooked in these parts of town. Paired with cheese and layered into lasagna, she presented a mouthwatering take on quesadillas de flor de calabaza.

She also explained that this dish grew out of a family recipe, and one that they actually make together. The chopping, roasting, and layering lends itself well to participation. This inspired us to ask of our guests, “What makes a family recipe?” We thank all of our taste-testers for their feedback and wonderful insights, some of which are shared below.

When the recipe has a story(ies) attached, it becomes fabled and somewhat legendary–that’s a family recipe.

Something on paper with typewriter font and oil stains.

Traditions. Grandmas. Christmas. Really, just care and tradition through generations but, most importantly, love.

1) A recipe that the whole family knows. 2) It’s a dish that either gets passed from generation to generation. 3) Or a dish that you eat whenever there’s a family gathering. 4) Shouldn’t be overly complicated. 5) Of course it needs to be delicious and suitable for all ages!!
Photos by Christopher Sonny Martinez.


Cinco de Meso

What better way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo–the most American of Mexican holidays, or the most Mexican of American holidays–than with a crazy-good meal? One with friends, of course! Guest chef Jessica Smith Soto knocked it out of the park with her mango guacamole and zucchini-blossom lasagna, and our new friends via Meal Sharing kept us in great company. Stay tuned for recipes.meso_posada_03meso_posada_05meso_posada_02meso_posada_01
Photos by Christopher Sonny Martinez.

Drool Alert: Posada Lasagna

Here’s what we’re cooking with guest chef Jessica Smith Soto for our upcoming Meso event:

mango guacamole
pineapple guacamole
pomegranate guacamole

black bean & tomatillo soup
black bean & chile ancho soup

Main Course (Posada Lasagna)
poblano lasagna
zucchini blossom lasagna

arequipe flan & Mexican hot chocolate cake

We’ve had an amazing time working with Jessica–she’s dynamite. Her approach to ingredients, family, Chicago, and sharing has taken Meso to a new level. We CAN’T WAIT for Sunday’s dinner and conversations. Stay tuned!