Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pear, chocolate and amaretto cheesecake.

 For the sake of variety, I am taking a break from the (still pending) Istanbul posts to bring you a recipe. Remember I told you about Fiona's recipe swap? Well, a few days ago I got my precious little envelope (which came all the way from the UK) and this last weekend I finally set myself to work.
I had to make a few changes, since the recipe called for "double cream" and I was not able to find it in the supermarkets here. As I learnt, double-cream should have minimum 48% milk fat. In The Netherlands, the "fattest" cream we have is whipping cream (slagroom), with 35 % fat. After a little bit of research I found out some people substitute double-cream with mascarpone cheese (80 % fat). So I used a mix of mascarpone + whipping cream to achieve a total similar percentage of fat. (250 gr mascarpone + 250 gr whipping cream, with a total 57.5 % fat, slightly higher than the 48% in double cream, but good enough I guess). As you can see, this is not exactly the lightest recipe, but I can tell you right now it was delicious.

You will need:
2 or 3 pears.
50 gr sugar. (I used brown)
100 ml. water
1 vanilla pod (mine came directly from the Grand Bazaar, in a little essay tube that made me think of my chemistry classes).
150 gr. digestive biscuits, crumbled
50 gr. butter.
2 tbsp. nutella. 
300 gr. cream-cheese
125 gr. sugar
500 ml. double cream (or 250 gr. mascarpone + 250 gr. whipping cream).
3 tbsp. amaretto liqueur.
100 gr. almond biscuits (amaretti), crushed.
75 gr. dark chocolate, to decorate.

What to do:
Peel, core and cut the pears in little cubes. On a low fire, in a small saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the water. Rip open the vanilla pod, take the seeds and put them in a large mixing bowl. Then, add the rest of the vanilla pod to the syrup. Add the fruit to the syrup and let them cook until soft but not mushy. The recipe said 3 minutes, but I let it cook more like 10 or 15 min, since my pears were quite hard. Drain, and let cool.

Next, for the pie base, powder the digestive biscuits. Melt the butter, and add the nutella. Pour the butter-nutella mix over the crumbled cookies and press this mixture on the bottom of a springform tin. Put in the fridge or freezer to set.

Now, on to the filling. In the mixing bowl with the vanilla seeds, mix the cream-cheese and the sugar until soft and creamy. Add the mascarpone and whipping cream and contine mixing to soft-peaks. Add the amaretto and mix well. Then, fold in the crushed almond biscuits and pear cubes.

Pour the filling on the springform and sprinkle the top with grated dark chocolate.Put in the fridge to chill, until firm. I actually put it in the freezer for 3 or 4 hours, unmoulded it (by sliding a knife carefully around the edges) and released the springform, and only then I transferred it to the fridge. I prefer it quite firm, but not hard-rock, so I kept moving it from the freezer to the fridge if it became to soft. I have to say that it always kept its form, it is just a matter of your personal taste.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Istanbul, the city of cats.

On the first night that we spent walking in the small streets of the old Istanbul, Sultanahmet, we were greeted by numerous cuddly locals that would come to our feet and begged to be petted. We realized the next day, as we walked through other neighborhoods in the city, that cats were waiting for us in every corner, even inside the monuments. There was one in Haghia Sophia who started doing that bread-kneading movement on my lap as soon as I kneeled to caress it. Another one in the large patio of the Blue Mosque was the main star, getting all the attention while basking in the sun.
 At some point, when I was so out of breath because I couldn't take the overwhelming heat any longer, we decided to rest a bit inside the Sirkeci train station. There, waiting for us, and actually laying on a seat was another feline, carefully grooming himself. As soon as he was finished, and noticing that I was not moving, he slowly pressed against me, as a test, I assume, after which it came to lay on my lap and slept there for a while, purring like a train while I petted him. I didn't want to leave.
There was even a cat in one of the many Turkish ceramic and souvenir shops, comfortably laying in a hand-painted plate, and I am certain, increasing the sales of the shop, just by being cute. We passed said shop several times and he was always there, laying here or there. It struck me how much the Turkish actually love these cats. You can see little bowls of water and food left for them in the street and, something rare in stray cats, they looked unusually healthy (shiny hair, bright eyes) and were hyper sociable, as in, they seeked human contact and would follow you around.
 I can not stress enough the importance of sterilizing pets, and for anyone who is in doubt, a visit to the local animal shelter should do the trick. However these cats just seemed loved by the society as a whole. It was a sight that made me happy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Back from Istanbul...

Not to delude myself, but in case you noticed my absence there was a reason behind it. We were in Istanbul! I had been wanting to go for a while, and when the opportunity came because of a project the boy is busy with, we made sure I could come along and join him for a few days. Yeah travel, finally, summer vacation! Asia ! The sun !
One of the things that struck me the most is how Istanbul immediately made me think of Mexico city... the traffic, the general friendliness of people, the street food. It is a place so full of history, I remember that ever since junior high school I wanted to see Constantinople, and its cathedral Saint Sophia (once a church, later a mosque, now a museum), which was at some point the center of the Roman Empire.
 But there is really so much to see: the Basilica cistern, an underground water deposit that could hold 80,000 cubic meters of water, with its columns and Medusa's heads (that according to the legend were placed there for protection); the impressive Blue mosque, with its beautiful mosaics all over the ceiling; the labyrinth-like Grand Bazaar , one of the oldest markets in the world, and still an important place of trade for gold, jewellery, spices, leather, textiles... and the exuberant Topkapi palace. I am full of stories and places that I'd like to show you, but for now I leave you with some photos.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mara Hoffman and cultural appropriation.

I have been pondering whether or not to write about this for more than a few days, in fact, ever since I saw this beautiful dress on a pinterest board. The more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that this was something that had to be talked about. After a few mouse clicks I found out that the designer behind the pretty dress was Mara Hoffman and that there is in fact a whole line of clothing with these patterns:  swimsuits, bikinis, coverups, pants...
As a Mexican, I recognized these designs straight away: they come from traditional embroidery works, handmade by the Otomi people, in the small town of Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo (which is also why these textiles are also sometimes referred to as Tenangos). The origin of this specific tradition is neatly summarized in this article, from where I took this excerpt:

"Many motifs common to tenangos are believed to be inspired by the ancient wall paintings found in nearby caves. There are also similarities between tenango embroidered patterns—such as the depiction of plants, animals and natural forces—and the designs found in the cut-bark paper craft known as amate, practiced by Otomí shamans for thousands of years."

The truth is, these textiles represent not only expert craftmanship, but are also a means of cultural expression, a reflection of their particular cosmovision that goes back to times immemorial. We are facing an art form in its own right:

"Tenangos evoke a spirit of magical realism, merging the real and the mythical. They provide a link to their storied past and a gateway to the future, providing a sense of cultural identity and a means of trading on the international stage. Like the collective memory of the Otomí, tenangos, in fiber and filament, preserve and perpetuate the history of the region and the traditions of the Otomí people."

Image by Teyacapan via here
Which is why I was enraged, and could not believe what I was reading when I saw the description of these garments in Mara Hoffman's website simply as: "colorful exotic animal print" or "colorful embroidered animal print". WTF !!! Where is the credit? Is this plain old plagiarism? I understand that fashion can be art, and that in art, inspiration comes from everywhere. But when that is the case, you should name your sources. As it seems, the patterns were just taken, calcated, directly copied. A matter of cultural appropriation in any case:

"cultural appropriation is the adoption of some specific elements of one culture by a different cultural group. It describes acculturation or assimilation, but can imply a negative view towards acculturation from a minority culture by a dominant culture.It can include the introduction of forms of dress or personal adornment, music and art, religion, language, or social behavior. These elements, once removed from their indigenous cultural contexts, can take on meanings that are significantly divergent from, or merely less nuanced than, those they originally held."

I can only hope that the designer will try and mend this, by giving proper credit and perhaps, more importantly, by contributing to the communities from which she stole took her ideas.

 Post edit This same plagiarism was done by Anthropologie, with  their Vanessa Virginia Folk Art Dress (that was soon removed from retail).

Most recently, the Spanish brand Mango also stole took these patterns for a pullover that they simply called "Jersey bordado floral" (no longer available, either).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

2 years.

<<The young couple first married on August 5, 1744, when Joseph was eight and Sarah six, and first ended their marriage six days later when Joseph refused to believe, to Sarah's frustration, that the stars were silver nails in the sky, pinning up the black nightscape. They remarried four days later, when Joseph left a note under the door of Sarah's parents' house: I have considered everything you told me, and I do believe that the stars are silver nails.

They ended their marriage again a year later, when Joseph was nine and Sarah seven, over a quarrel about the nature of the bottom of the river bed. A week later, they were remarried, including this time in their vows that they should love each other until death, regardless of the existence of the riverbed, the temperature of the river bed's bottom (should it exist), and the possible existence of starfish on the possibly existing riverbed.

They ended their marriage one hundred and twenty times throughout their lives and each time remarried with a longer list of vows. They were sixty and fifty-eight at their last marriage, only three weeks before Sarah died of heart failure and Joseph drowned himself in the bath. Their marriage contract still hangs over the door of the house they on-and-off shared-nailed to the top post and brushing against the welcome mat:

"It is with everlasting devotion that we, Joseph and Sarah L, reunite in the indestructible union of matrimony, promising love until death, with the understanding that the stars are silver nails in the sky, regardless of the existence of the bottom of the river, the temperature of this bottom (should it exist) and the possible existence of starfish on the possibly existing riverbed, overlooking what may or may not have been accidental grape juice spills, agreeing to forget that Joseph played sticks and balls with his friends when he promised he would help Sarah thread the needle for the quilt she was sewing, and that Sarah was supposed to give the quilt to Joseph, not his buddy, ignoring the simple fact that Joseph snores like a pig, and that Sarah is no great treat to sleep with either, letting slide certain tendencies of both parties to look too long at members of the opposite sex, not making a fuss over why Joseph is such a slob, leaving his clothes wherever he feels like taking them off, expecting Sarah to pick them up, clean them, and put them in their proper place as he should have, or why Sarah has to be such a pain about the smallest things, such as which way the toilet paper unrolls, or when dinner is five minutes later than she was planning, because, let's face it, it's Joseph who's putting that paper on the roll and dinner on the table, disregarding whether the beet is a better vegetable than the cabbage, putting aside the problems of being fat-headed and chronically unreasonable, trying to erase the memory of a long since expired rose bush that a certain someone was supposed to remember to water when his wife was visiting family, accepting the compromise of the way we have been, the way we are, and the way we will likely be. May we live together in unwavering love and good health. Amen.">>

-text from Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran 
-Foto by Fotoflex

Monday, September 3, 2012

Parks, museums, friends...

These days have been quite calm, but I also had the chance to finally visit a friend who lives in Arnhem, pretty much at the other side of the country. We took a long walk in Sonsbeek park with her cute dogs and saw deer. Deer ! We also went shopping and I was able to find the "item" of the season, pastel jeans, for 10 EUR (instead of 6 times that prize, win). And yes, they look summery and happy, and autumn is coming, followed by the darkness, but I've been known for wearing colorful stuff even in the winter, perhaps despite it, because I firmly believe happy clothes can brighten any day.
 Yesterday we went to the Sunday Market by the Westerpark in Amsterdam, and oh the food was delicious. We had my favorite greek treat, Kolokitho-keftedés: zucchini, feta and herb balls just barely fried and served with tzatziki. After that we visited the Tropenmuseum (or tropics museum, which used to be the "Colonial museum") and it is definitely worth it. It depicts the cultures and folklore of the world, by continent, but they do not stop at the historic level, you also get a glimpse of people's everyday life and vision and get hints on where it all came from.

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