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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sweet Memories

One day, while on my account, a cookbook title popped up as a suggestion. It turned out the Internet retail giant's system that finds-things-you-will-not-be-able-to-resist-buying, is completely accurate. I obediently clicked on My Sweet Mexico and felt the urge to add it to my virtual shopping cart immediately. Then...I realized that  Fany Gerson had penned it.
I bought the book right away and once out of its smiley faced box, I couldn't put it down any more. I took it to bed at night and I smiled, salivated, and almost cried with the strongest nostalgia while turning each one of the pages.
Beautifully written, thoroughly researched and wonderfully photographed, this book narrated my most precious food memories. Growing up in Mexico City, born in the mid seventies, raised in a Jewish family, making family road trips with my parents throughout the Mexican Republic and being a hard core sweet tooth...there was something for and of me in every page. Polvorones, conchas, churros, garabatos, mazapanes. The recipes were like childhood souvenirs.

It seemed as if Fany and I had a similar upbringing... And well, we kind of did. We were friends in elementary school at the Escuela Montessori de la Ciudad de Mexico.
We had lost touch after fifth grade, when we enrolled in different schools. About five years ago she emailed me. She'd discovered we were both pastry chefs in NYC. Of course, being me, I lost that email account and with it, all my contacts. Couldn't get in touch with her then.
I found her again recently, on Facebook (once I joined after years of refusing to do any social networking) wanting to congratulate her on her fabulous My Sweet Mexico.

After some messages, we planned to meet to catch up at a cafe.  Once at the assigned place, and after an hour of unsuccessfully trying to recognize her on the face of every human drinking coffee, tea or flavored milk at the site, and wondering if she had transformed herself into a teenager, an 80-something man or a baby or the baby's nanny, I realized I had showed up early...Twenty three hours early!!! With my head throbbing with private embarrassment, I left and came back the next day.
While we both wondered if we would recognize each other after all these years....We did. Right away and without any hint of doubt, which somehow, felt very satisfying, relieving and comforting.
We talked a bit about our lives, achievements, frustrations, heartaches, memories, experiences, projects, writing and baking seasoned with some former classmate trivia. I had a lovely time with her!
Besides My Sweet Mexico, Fany published more recently Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas, another fantastic cookbook based on her popular La Newyorkina ice pop business inspired in the flavors we both grew up enjoying at the Mexican paleterias. When she's not making or selling ice pops or artisanal Mexican candy in markets, carts or pop up shops, developing recipes, or writing, Fany prepares to open her flagship La Newyorkina store. I'm fascinated by everything she's doing and can't wait to see what she does next.

When reading her, you can feel how personal are her recipes and the relationships she formed with everyone who shared them with her. She established bonds with the people through the food, and she's now working on giving back to all those generous artisans, by helping them set up businesses or other sources of income.
I have My Sweet Mexico marked all over with tiny Post its with the recipes I want to make, plus the ones my kids want to make together. I'm hoping this winter break gets us through the list.
I made Fany's churros for Chanukah (if I was going to celebrate the oil miracles, I couldn't think of a better way!), and today, while our building's heater is being fixed and it's so chilly in and outside, I made a batch of her "Atole de Amaranto."

Atoles are thick, porridge-like drinks that date back to Pre-Hispanic days. They are usually made out of corn or corn masa and water (although, after the Spaniards introduced cattle into the New World, milk was added to the mix), a sweetener and flavorings such as chocolate, fruit, spices, etc. This particular one calls for amaranth, one of my most favorite ingredients.
Atoles are usually sold by street vendors and are drank for breakfast or dinner, accompanied by steamy tamales.

I buy amaranth and amaranth flour from Bob's Red Mill or other brands at the health food store and I toast the grain myself as I mentioned here, which is fairly easy and quick, BUT you can purchase organic puffed amaranth at: Nu-World Foods, which is Fany's source, and it's kosher certified.


Recipe from Fany Gerson's My Sweet Mexico: Recipes for Authentic Pastries, Breads, Candies, Beverages, and Frozen Treats, a Ten Speed Press publication
  • Vegetarian (uses honey). Nut, gluten, wheat, dairy, egg, and soy free
  • Super ingredients: amaranth (rich in complete protein, fiber, iron and calcium), honey and canela (rich in antioxidants)    

3 cups water
1 (3-inch) piece canela*
1 1/2 cups amaranth flour
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup puffed amaranth

I added:
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 pinch fine sea salt

Place the water and canela in a pot over medium heat and bring to a boil.

Slowly whisk in the amaranth flour so it doesn't form lumps. Decrease the heat to low.

Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened and starts to boil again.

Stir in the honey (and vanilla and salt, if using), remove from heat, discard the canela, and pour into serving bowls.

Top each bowl with some puffed amaranth and serve warm.
Serves 4

Left: canela; Right: cinnamon

*canela is Ceylon cinnamon, a different variety of the cinnamon commonly used in the U.S. As per Fany, canela "is more fragrant and less spicy." And I agree. Canela's flavor is more complex, a bit sweeter, fruitier and it doesn't have such a strong bite. There's definitely a difference. If possible, get canela sticks (I found some in Target, but you can find it in Hispanic stores or online)

What's your sweetest food memory?

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