Meso’s Reads

Here are a few things Meso has read/listened to recently:

We enjoyed making (and eating) our Chicago Mixed popcorn recipe. NPR tells us a little more about the history of popcorn. Apparently the Aztecs had a word for the popping sounds of popcorn – totopoca.

In preparation for our Mole Brownie recipe (stay tuned), we stumbled across this wonderful souvenir book created by the Board of Lady Manager’s of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The board was headed by Bertha Palmer, the wife of Chicago business man and hotelier Potter Palmer. Bertha was also the spark for the invention of the brownie. Check out this digital version of the book, which is a compilation of autographed recipes by the female representatives from all over the United States. There are some interesting (and odd) recipes. We were especially  interested in the recipes coming from New Mexico, like the recipe for Tamales de Dulce, which was written in Spanish!

We have been listening to a lot of NPR recently, and Scott Simon recently interviewed conjunto musical legend Flaco Jimenez about his recent musical collaboration with Max Baca. Conjunto is a wonderful mixture of Mexican and German music. As Scott Simon says, conjunto “can be as American as cherry pie.”

Guillermo Gómez-Peña is a performance artist, most known for La Pocha Nostra and The Couple in the Cage with Coco Fusco. Recently we read his essay, Multicultural Paradigm: Open Letter to the National Arts Communitywritten in the early 90s. It’s an interesting commentary on the emergence of Latino culture into the public sphere and the development of what he calls “border culture.”  The essay analyzes the collision, opposition, and fusion of cultures in the United States, a topic we are also wrestling with here at Meso. While written over twenty years ago, much of Gómez-Peña’s essay still resonates with current events.

13 Dishes That Aren’t Mexican? Well…

I was inspired to post Buzzfeed’s 13 Dishes That Aren’t Actually Mexican to highlight a major part of what Meso is about. If you read the list, you’ll notice that a majority of these non-Mexican foods come from Texas, California, or another southwestern state. Now, these states of course are part of the United States, but before 1848 and the Mexican-American War, they were part of Mexico. Since then, the southwest has maintained a rich cultural tradition, combining elements of Mexican, Native American, and European cultures (don’t forget the Asian influences in California) and creating unique, regional recipes. At our Meso events we talk about the differences between Tex-Mex, New Mexican, and Californian-Mexican foods. They each have their particular flavors, but their existence is heavily tied to the strong traditions of Mexican cuisine.

The links between Mexican-American and Mexican food point out Buzzfeed’s ham-fisted definition of “Mexican” food. One of the things Meso is trying to explore is Mexican cuisine’s global influences. Gustavo Arellano (author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America), Rick Bayless, and Patricia Jinich (host of Pati’s Mexican Table) constantly talk about the French, Spanish, Jewish, and Native American influences that have inspired Mexican food, truly making it a global cuisine. If we want to nitpick, we could go back and claim many traditional Mexican dishes’ origins lie outside Mexico. And, the same could be said about some “classic” American foods like apple pie, hamburgers, or macaroni and cheese.

The point is, Meso is trying to explore the blurred lines between food and culture. Buzzfeed’s article scratches the surface (albeit lazily). It’s exciting (and delicious) to try and trace foods and recipes back to their progenitor. But, what we are uncovering more and more is that it’s not so easy to find just one, and it’s pretty messy. Just like cooking.


Meso’s Reads

Below are a few articles we’ve read this week:

Here is an 2009 NPR article discussing Gustavo Arellano’s book, Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. Arellano’s book has definitely inspired us!

A NYTimes  article from 2009 about Patricia Jinich – from the television show Pati’s Mexican Table – discusses her Jewish-Mexican background and her evolution as a cook. Check out Pati’s website for some delicious recipes and cooking tips. We especially like her blog posts breaking down the basics of Mexican food.

And finally, have a look at NPR’s Code Switch Blog where guest blogger Alex Schmidt also talks about her experiences with Jewish-Latin cuisine. Her chicken soup recipe sounds like just the thing for the cold winter days we are having.