Cinco de Gimpo.

It has been ages since I’ve posted about cooking on here. Like, I am pretty sure I have aged since then. But! It doesn’t mean that I haven’t been cooking. I have been cooking, and baking, and eating. I’m still really into soup. I’ve also been on an asparagus bender, because, well, it’s spring!

This here, though, this is a recipe that I made up myself, and I’m so excited that I had to share. As I contemplate moving away from Eugene, I’m looking at all my belongings: costume items that I’ll send back to the thrift store, books sitting on the shelf that I’d like to read before transporting them back to New Hampshire, this giant desk that I will have to somehow sell… and random food in the cupboards. I’m looking at you, five-pound bag of masa flour. Conveniently, about the time I remembered that I should probably use it up, it was Cinco de Mayo.

I’m not sure I’ve ever celebrated Cinco de Mayo in any serious way, but I was determined to start. Well, sort of determined. I wanted to use up that masa flour, and to drink margaritas. So I talked to my friends Brian and Andrea. Andrea, you see, had just broken her ankle. She was on some pretty powerful painkillers, so she wouldn’t be able to have any tequila, but I tried to think of a way we could celebrate the holiday in a sedentary fashion. So I thought and thought and thought, and wished I had a tortilla press, and thought some more, and thought: stuff them!

I cooked up some onions, green chiles, carrots, cheese, and tomatos, and then we sat around the table on the porch making masa cakes. Brian drank beer and Andrea propped her leg up on a chair, and was disappointingly non-loopy. It was a beautiful, beautiful afternoon – it’s finally spring in the most glorious of senses – and we grabbed blobs of the masa/flour paste and kneaded them with our hands. Then we shaped them into a ball, flattened the ball, dumped some filling on top, and folded the masa over and sealed the edged. Like a hand-pie. Made of masa.

This makes it sound easy. It wasn’t hard, exactly, but it was messy. And at first, we stuffed too much filling inside the cakes. Then we tried to make them into balls instead of turnovers. By the time we settled on a form that didn’t fall apart or leak, there was masa everywhere. We headed inside, where Brian fried up the cakes in some oil while Andrea read out loud from an Amy Sedaris book. My favorite was the part about the mouse ghetto.

Anyway, we sat out on the porch, eating beans and rice, avocado and lime, and masa cakes. It was perfect. The cakes were delicious. Then we joined a few more friends for margaritas and Trivial Pursuit, girls vs. boys. Girls rule boys drool.

It wasn’t a crazy Cinco de Mayo, but it was a happy one, spent with good friends. And we didn’t make authentic Mexican food, but we made food with Mexican ingredients – isn’t that what America does?

Masa Cakes Stuffed With Green Chiles and Cheese

This makes about 12 to 15 cakes, depending on how big you make them. You have to sort of wing it on the ratio of filling to masa dough. It’s very easy to make more dough if you have leftover filling, or you can put the filling in an omelette, where it is also quite tasty.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 yellow onion

4 cloves garlic

3 Anaheim peppers

2 carrots (I used purple ones)

1 Roma tomato

salt and pepper

coriander

oregano, Mexican if possible

chile powder

a ball of Mozzarella cheese

4 cups (roughly) Masa Harina

water

a neutral, high-temperature vegetable oil for frying

lime slices; salsa and guacamole to dip in, if desired

Start by roasting the peppers. Set your oven to broil and place the peppers on a lightly oiled baking sheet, rolling them around to coat with a thin layer of oil. Place the pan in the oven and cook until the skin on the peppers begins to blister. Roll the peppers so a new side is facing the broiler element, and repeat. Most peppers have three flattish sides, and make sure that each begins to blister. Then pull the pan out of the oven. The skin should peel off of the peppers easily; make sure that you have it all off. Chop of the tops of the peppers, slice in half lengthwise, and scrape out the seeds. Chop into small pieces and place in a bowl.

In a frying pan, heat the oil. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook for a minute; add the carrots, salt and pepper, and spices. You can make the filling quite flavorful as only a small amount will be in each masa cake. Cook until the carrots are soft, then add to the bowl with the chiles. Chop the tomato and add it to the bowl, then shred the cheese over everything and stir to combine.

In a larger bowl, place the masa and add water, stirring, until a dry dough forms. Take a ball of dough the size of a lemon and knead it in your hands for a few minutes. When it is more cohesive and pliable and seems strong, shape it into a ball, then flatten that ball on the countertop. Pick it up and use your palms and fingers to make it as thin as possible without ripping. Place back on the countertop, and spoon some filling into the middle, just to one side of an imaginary center dividing line on the disk of dough. Fold the edge of the disk together, crimp them, and place on a plate or baking sheet. Repeat until there is no more dough.

In a frying pan, heat 1/4 inch of oil until it shimmers. If there is not enough oil, the cakes will stick to the bottom of the pan and fall apart. Fry the cakes, flipping from side to side carefully, until golden all over and dark brown at the roundest parts. Dry on a stack of paper towels to remove some oil.

Serve with slivers of lime to squeeze over the masa cakes, condiments, and, if you’re like me, back beans and rice.

a crazy family.

On Sunday night my housemate Heather and the women who lives in our backyard, Elizabeth, wanted to carve pumkins.

So we did.

First, a little bit about our housing arrangement, which is unusual. Our house is on the edge of the city, definitely still in the neighborhoods but not downtown; as a result our lot has more of a yard than I’d expect. It’s full of berries and fruit trees, and also a pair of yurts where Erik and Elizabeth live. Erik is our landlord’s son and Elizabeth is his girlfriend. They are younger than me but older in a lot of ways too; they work in gardens and on wood and with their hands, don’t have many amenities, and survive almost entirely on cash. This summer they got a truck and were so excited. They don’t pay rent.

The situation is mostly wonderful because Erik and Elizabeth are really nice. Sometimes, it’s strange to have people living in your backyard regardless of how nice they are, though. This weekend Elizabeth was talking about how she wants to get ducks because duck eggs are so good, and I just thought of how I didn’t really want ducks wandering around our yard. I didn’t want to be stepping in duck poo all the time, and I just didn’t want to deal with them. Then I felt bad. That’s the thing about Erik and Elizabeth: whenever they ask you about something, you feel like you have to say yes even if you don’t want to because the idea is so charming and sustainable. You feel like a grouch saying no.

That didn’t come up in our pumpkin-carving evening, though. Because who doesn’t want to carve pumpkins? Elizabeth had dragged Erik to the pumpkin patch and they had each picked out a nice carving pumpkin. Heather, on the other hand, grabbed two smallish pie pumpkins from the supermarket.We figured we could use the pumpkins for pie after we looked at them for a few days. I’m not sure that’s how it works, but we’re going to try.

My other housemate, Laura, wanted to cook up the pumpkin seeds, so Heather and I each took a pumpkin and a few of Erik’s carving tools and the four of us set to work on the floor. It was immediately clear that everyone else was way, way more artistic for me. I briefly thought about doing a jack-o-lantern that wasn’t a face – maybe a tree, or a cat, or a snowflake – but then I thought, who am I kidding? I can’t draw that stuff. Much less carve it. So that was that, I was making a face.

Considering the amount of time I spent on my pumpkin, which was roughly the same amount of time everyone else took, the result was kind of lame. I mean, look at Elizabeth’s pumpkin:

Elizabeth thought that her pumpkin ended up looking like a monkey wearing a fez. And Erik’s pumpkin – the one on the right in the top photo – was absolutely incredible. He didn’t carve through at any point, but literally whittled a face out of the pumpkin flesh. Entertainingly, it ended up looking like a monkey too, and we wondered why they liked monkeys so much.

Despite being completely outclasses in the artsy-fartsy department, it was a lot of fun to sit around the floor joking and eating Laura’s delicious pumpkin seeds. We may have been more focused on our designs than we were when we were kids, but we had no less fun. I hadn’t carved a pumpkin in years, but I think I am going to have to make a habit of it again. Especially with friends, it’s a nice way to do something fall-like!

Although hopefully my jack-o-lanterns will get more ornate if I keep practicing…. although this fellow does have a bit of his own charm.

I’m settled in and so are they.

By the time I finally post this it might be a moot point, but we have raccoons.

The second day I was here, I was sitting at the table with my laptop and glanced out the window just as a large raccoon strolled by on the little path around the house. She didn’t seem troubled and wasn’t moving fast. It was the middle of the day and she was just out on a walk beside the garden.

“Oh yeah,” said Seth, my housemate. “That’s Mom.”

It turned out that Mom had been living under the porch for quite some time and nobody was quite sure what to do about it. This was all particularly funny to me because as I drove across the country I had listened to a lot of NPR, including a story about the absolutely insane number of raccoons in Toronto. Here, as soon as I was living in a city (well, “city” compared to Toronto) I had my very own backyard raccoon.

Mom didn’t really bother Seth or the couple living in the yurt in our backyard, so nobody worried too much. Occasionally over the next few days I saw her wandering around. She must have been living off of other people’s garbage, because she left our compost alone. Hmmm.

Then Seth left to go on a climbing trip on Wednesday. The note he left behind, besides asking me to pick up the CSA share, said, “Mom is gone so watch out for the kids.”

What? Seth is gone and nobody else can really answer the question of what happened to Mom, but we guess that it means that she is no more.

In any case, I didn’t see Mom again and then today, suddenly, I saw the kids, or kits to be more precise. There were three of them peeking out from the hole in the porch floor, looking very hungry and sad. And they were so cute! I began to have very mixed feelings. I didn’t want to encourage any more raccoons to stay under our porch, but the thought of them just starving to death was pretty sad. Still, I wasn’t going to feed them or anything. I was in kind of a philosophical crisis about them. And they kept just kind of looking at me and being all cute.

So finally I talked to Elizabeth, the woman who lives in the yurt, and we commiserated about how we didn’t know what to do with te raccoons. She said that last year there had been a litter and she had called someone to trap them. The guy had said they had to kill all of the raccoons they trapped and the fee was $400. She asked if she could have the raccoons back afterwards, and there was a silence. You know, to make hats or something, she said. The man hung up.

Elizabeth wasn’t going to pay $400 to get rid of our raccoons, and neither was I. Luckily, a few hours later, our other neighbor showed up with a live trap and set it up. He’s going to take the kits across the river to a nice forest, where they will probably starve or be eaten, but at least we won’t have to watch them starve and can still imagine them being all cute, growing up, and raiding garbage cans over in Springfield.