Tuesday, December 25, 2012

And later, a movie...

Jay and Ruby

Other things we selected from the dim-sum carts: potstickers, pork buns, almond and mango pudding, three kinds of shrimp dumplings, red-cooked pork, cucumbers in vinegar, sticky rice. Things we wished we could have eaten too: greens, chicken feet, lots of other kinds of dumplings...

LuLu's Chinese seafood restaurant near Olivette, Mo. Note that the dragon's eye is a Christmas light.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


I am reading Tequila! A Natural and Cultural History by Ana G. Valenzuela-Zapata and Gary Paul Nabhan. Science and poetic description combine beautifully as the author describes the taxonomy of the agave plant used in the beverage, its long history beginning in prehistoric Mexico, and the lives and traditions of the Mexican agricultural workers who plant, cultivate, and harvest the agave crop. Valenzuela-Zapata describes their hard physical labor and the taxing heat and aridity of the fields, the simple meals they cook and eat while working, and their "quixotic" oral tradition.

"Mescaleros are forever spinning yarns about mescal -- the plant and the spirit -- while working in fields or resting in the nearby shade, and while jiving on the street corner or drinking in the cantina on the village plaza," writes the author. "They keep up their running commentary while bolting for cover during a sudden downpour, or cursing the sun as it bakes the plants they have tended for seasons." (p. 31)

The labor continues in the distilleries where huge harvested "pinas" are roasted and their liquid fermented, possibly with sugar, into a variety of tequilas. The lore continues, backward and forward in time, in many traditions of eating and drinking the fruit of this very widespread plant.

Two images kept recurring in  my mind. One was of a worker taking care of huge agave plants at Lotus Land, an eccentric botanical garden in Santa Barbara that I visited in 2003; you can see the large pine-cone-like agave bulb similar to that used to make tequila:

The second image is of Mayahuel, Aztec goddess of agave, mentioned at various points in the book:

I'm looking forward to a lively discussion of the book in my culinary book club next week.