Archive | November, 2013

Thankgivukka Tamale Take Down Dos

22 Nov

Thanksgiving Hanukkah

Thanksgivukka under a week off = the countdown is on: only a few thousand trips to the mall and/or hits on till The Holiday of All Holidays: LBJ Day. Meaning: a deluge of noel, and if I’m a good enough gringo: Tamales!

The Mexican-American Navidad tamale tradition dates back to I don’t know when and has its origins on Wikipedia, or should. Google it. And while all during December tamales are easier to score in AZ y NM than a (insert vice here) at Washington Square Park in early 1980s NYC, finding enough quality dozens to get me through to 2014 in and around the Great Lakes may require a Xmas miracle.

The tamale quest began the moment I touched down on the concrete shores of Lake Michigan resulting in the earlier Tamale Take-Down missive wherein Chicago, yet again, surprised me with several tasty masa missiles. My ground maize munchies mission never abated, time and despot (read: 1 y.o. son) permitting, I stalked both parking lots and grocer’s shelves. Then along came Rick Bayless and sorta ruined everything, rendering me hopeless. Rather than bemoan the Mexican Martha Stewart, for now at least, I’ll just list the latest Christmas contenders – and in Rick’s case epic failures – if only to report a hella lotta masa gonna have to make sweet love to this lengua before it starts singing the praises any tamale worthy the manger.




Available a finer grocery stores:

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Hormel Canned Tamales

I may not have yet paid off my guaranteed government student loans making this next word valued at roughly $30K: versimilitude. This palabra is little more than film school palaver (hence the lingering undergraduate debt) and popped up the instant I popped a hot Hormel tamale into my mouth. Film scholars (read: snobs) use the term (I purposely misspelled to undermine/irritate said snobs) to describe the difference between what you hear or see on the big screen vs. what you hear or see in real life.

Example: gunshots in movies sound nothing like the real thing, and yet, wholly unrealistic we accept them to be a perfectly suitable version of reality.

Enter stage right: Hormel Tamales (w/cottage cheese)

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FICTION: These lovely rolls, wrapped in wax paper and swimming in a zesty chili broth have not changed in flavor, style, texture (or price) in at least 30 years. Would not surprise me if this can had an American bicentennial born-on date. Since discovering Jewel stocks Hormel tamales among the canned meats and Franco American products, all told I’ve eaten about a dozen cans, all consistently consistent in tasting like what one would imagine a tamale tastes like in a movie. Which is really all we as of canned goods, isn’t it?

REALITY: Give the hungry a real gift this holiday. Let’s agree that instead of tossing another cobwebbed creamed corn or dusty can of SPAM into the company food drive box, we’ll pony up a couple bucks for a can (or three) of these unrealistically rico treats. I’m fairly certain tamales would make anyone’s holiday a heck of a lot brighter than say, lima beans.


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My inner Columbo detects that these are the same “delta” tamales purchased at Chicago hot dog/Italian beef landmarks I’d blogged semi-passionately about prior. A bargain at 2 for a buck in the frozen food aisle, not quite as fine as Hormel when it comes to masa and meat, these nuke-able, sticky, sweet and “is that cinnamon?” tubes – I’m guessin’ here – are to “the real thing” (though I’ve yet to eat a Chicago/Delta tamale) as Sunny Delight is to orange juice: better with a splash of Cuervo but better not to go without. Would strongly recommend NOT leaving these out for St. Nick.


 Available in a West Town church parking lot

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For the sake of finding a way into our next tamale set, sticking to the theme of justifying a degree in film production, let’s imagine a remake of Old Yeller, only in this Sarah McLaughlin approved update, Yeller isn’t a lab but a loyal, beloved bicycle. And in place of the boy – I’m guessing here  (confession: never seen or read the classic tale of poochicide) is a blogger of middling-indeterminate age who learns that said bike – whose name was actually El Pollo Fuego Amarillo  – is well, “Old Yeller”: sick way past fixin’:

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Cut to: said character fighting back great big Brian’s Song/Old Yeller sized tears upon asking to “have a moment” (and photo shoot) before sending this inanimate object said blogger harbored an unhealthy and unnatural fondness for over 20 years off to the scrap heap.


(Back story: Such was his attachment that he put off having a bike mechanic deliver the news of EPFA’s inoperable condition for the final 5 of those 20 years, choosing to take his chances on a bike without brakes, perpetually stuck in a single gear. Don’t call it a fixie,. Not only did EPFA look nothing like one of them anorexic beach cruiser/hipster-mobiles, really it had no brakes.)


Back to the Old Yeller (the remake): a montage of biking through the Rocky Mountains, around the Mall in DC, Manhattan to Coney Island, Tempe, Seattle, and finally Chicago to a soundtrack of Queen: ‘Bicycle Race’ seguing into ‘He’s my Best Friend’.

Cross-fade into the present and a final ride around the bike shop slash crematorium where thanks to the magic of the movies a pop-up tamale stand run by a Mexican couple who haven’t the foggiest what “pop up” even means attempt to wave down said bicyclist for a free sample of their homemade tamales.

Unable to stop said bicyclist flies past, nearly side-swiped by a van full of Korean 7th Day Adventists, circling around and back another block – the street is one way – hoping, no praying this was no mirage and that he’ll slow down enough to come to a stop – that they haven’t sold out – for this last supper/holy communion.

As luck, fate and fortune would have it – for his faithfulness to his bike? – he scores the last dozen: 6 red and 6 green, inhaling all but two (for another photo shoot) on the pedal back to the shop.

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Due to the emotionally charged events leading up to the score I am still unable to recall any flavors but the salt of my tears of joy/sadness. The photo-documentation suggests these tamales were nothing short of effing awesome.

I’d love to share where these tamale are sold but it turns out the stand was either a “pop-up” or act of God and/or Hollywood. Once I’d passed through Kubler-Ross’s stages I drove across Chicago for another dozen. Nobody in the barrio had ever seen such a stand, including the kids who worked at the bike shop slash cemetary. They did remember to laughed and call me Old Yeller.

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Frontera Fresco (Located in the Macy’s formerly known as Marshall Field’s – Floor 7)

As a resident of Chicago, I would like nothing more than to have Rick Bayless bowl me over with his promised/branded authentic flavors of the Mexican cooking so familiar and dear and neccessary  to me for my for survival. And yet having eaten at all three of outlets of the Bayless empire I can say without concertation – even though I’m not sure what that word means – or hesitation that Senor Bayless – in my blog at least – is killing me. I kept my silence on this for over a year now, perfectly content leaving reviews of Frontera Grill and his neighboring comida de calle parlor to the misguided (and well-heeled) Yelpers. But after having hucked into the garbage the two tamales served to me at the Frontera Fresco, I gotta fire up the old SAT analogy generator and suggest that Rick Bayless is to Mexican comida tipica as Will Ferrell is to, well, mira:


Mira, tamales are the one food I know I will never make well enough to pass for the real thing. And so I’ve braved Oaxacan earthquakes, Palenque floods, South Phoenix gunfire, Coors country blizzards, a Veracruz wild animal park monkey attack and even Zapatistas in Chiapas for the culinary wonder than is the tamale: some sublime, some subpar, one with a bone in it where the black olive should be.


Mira again, my mission isn’t one of looking for bragging rights here. I am not an expert. I simply love tamales and expect them to love me back and would take a bullet for them. As a resident of Chicago, I would like nothing more than to have Rick Bayless bowl me over with tamales familiar and dear and necessary to me for my for survival in the corazon of the Loop, especially since the ridiculous law/regulations vs. the food trucks have placed tamales out of the realm of my tracking one down on my hour-long lunch break (yeah, thanks for that one Rammel).  An yet, Bayless instead breaks my heart with this hot mess:

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Notice anything wrong with this picture? Probably not. That’s because these tamales may very well have been prepared by a food stylist. How else can one explain the fact that the masa was flat out uncooked. No caca. Goopy, gluey, and bleeping gross. Grits are less runny, and oh yeah, actually edible. Why, might you ask, did I not exchange the tamales? Have the kitchen “heat em up” for me? Complain to the management? The answer mi amigos lies in this video – which I suggest Senor Bayless loop in the kitchen at the Frontera Fiasco in Macy’s (Hint: my break is only an hour).


On a much happier note:



The Family Meatloaf Geonome Project

16 Nov


Pavo tacos were on the menu for more than my apartmenthold Monday. Seems all Lakeview got a craving. The unexcused absence of shells on the grocery’s shelves inspired me to literally try my hands at turkey meat loaves, figuring a minimum of 7 additional ingredients – including turkey sausage – might elevate this otherwise dull ground bird.

As noted in a previous post, every family casserole/meatloaf/Thanksgiving stuffing possesses a genome passed down from generation to generation. Mi familia’s minimalist approach can be traced back hundreds of years to Franco-German meat purveyors in Moline, Illinois. Genetic survival depends on successful replication and adaptation. The horizontal transfer of our recipe from beef to bird resulted in several heritable blocks upon which to build a meal; a testament to our loave’s geonomic heritability.

Turkey Meatloaf

2 lbs ground turkey

½ tube ground turkey sausage

½ white onion; dry seared

½ garlic bulb; added to onion w/heat off post-sear

¼ cup bread crumbs

1 egg

Splash of Worcestershire

Blast of catsup

Salt & Pepper

Mix ingredients using bare hands. Shape into loaves or loaf. Google cooking times and temps accordingly.

That covers the “Chi-“ part of the meal. As for the “exican”, added the following:

Fresh chopped green chile

NM Red Chile powder

NM Red Chile enchilada sauce

Mexican oregano

Mexi-blend cheese

Survival of the fedest dishes:

Open-face Mexi-chago meatloaf and provolone slider (served on baquette w/mayo)


Mexi-chago pavo meatloaf, bean and cheese burro (served in Frontier tortilla (flour) w/ketchup, yes, ketchup:


Que Viva! Dia de la Muerte.Pilsen/Chicago/Illinois.2103

7 Nov

We got lost.  Dumb-ass smart phone map app fail. One way streets face off. Twilight stop & stop & go & then stop & go traffic some more. Hunger gnawing a second navel. Some more traffic. Heavy weather horizon. Did I mention the traffic? Prisons on the left of me, artist-style-loft condos on the right. Destination unknown.

And yet, who hadn’t been this feliz since the 1999 afternoon he bush-wacked, slogged, dog pedaled and finally ran from a Xalapa, Mexico bus terminal some 300km through monsoon and highway traffic to the slurp up the finest bowl of Caldo de siete mars that ever ran down a gringo’s face. Yo.


If you go to Dia de la Muerte 2014 take no map or smart phone. That’s hubris. Welcome the God’s gifts and guidance. Trip the cumbia fantastic, d-load a Randy Salazar jr. soundcloud mixtape. Get thee to Pilsen y Little Village and tack around and around and around…round and round.

Por que? Yay Murales! No photographs for me, being behind the wheel con baby on board y en realidad didn’t bother. Photos no doubt rob such pinturas grandes of spirit. If you must, Google image if you can project your search results onto, oh, I dunno the side of a 5-story walk-up. (Gracis los dios del pinturas del barrio Chicago bonito.)

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Of course none of which was even the point of the pilgramage: as always, led by la lengua y el nariz, when we finally docked on a side street, under the watchful eyes of Chavez, Villa et al, and loped up to the community center hosting the evening’s events neither sight nor whiff of comdia de fiesta were to be had, instead angelitos y calaveras y catrinas by floated by the dozens. Another unexpected unearthly delight.


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There was

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There was

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There was

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And then there was – of course – food.

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Honky Tonky BBQ, the neighborhood smoke house, provided the cocineria (y chorizo) while an incredible organization from Minnesota (whose name eludes me and searching the internet for tags led me to Jaime Oliver – c’mon Google, gimme a break) conducted by The People’s Cook concocted slightly amazing and no doubt supremely nutritious complimentary taco/burro/tortilla (El Milagro, mi favorito) Mexi-chago food things.

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While all ingredients have made their way onto many of my tortillas separately, admittedly, it never occurred to layer it up and leave out the cheese – which I did not even miss or notice missing until writing this nearly a week later.

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That heavy weather referred to earlier held out no longer and we scurried off to visit the highly-anticipated/touted/fullfilling Nuevo Leon, sadly missing the procession/parade. Let’s leave the restaurant reviews to the restaurant reviewers – and Yelp!.

Still, here’s a still life of shiny barbacoa tacos with sippy bottle.

photo 2y a dulce score outside the front door:photo 3En termindado though, a palarbra or two needs to be dropped about the to voy tortillas available for purchase at the cash register but not to be confused for the Nuevo Leon torts on your grocer’s shelf. My flawed biological RAM won’t permit access to previous post for the origin story. So tambien, a mover manning the unloading of the truck when we re-landed on the shores of Lake Michigan, I found out was from Tucson. As is my habit, whenever I move, and moved a lot I have, I set out, often before setting up utilities, to find hand/homemade tortillas y tamales. My average made Big Papi’s WS 2013 .688


look like that of a Bad News Bear

images-1Until 2012-13. Until Leon, I hadn’t actually tasted a Chi-Mex home/handmade tortillas. (Tamale’s I’ll get to in another post). The New Lion’s stash lasted not even a week – I’ll be heading Pilsen way Friday for more, yeah, they’re all that and a baggie of burnt, chewy, dry, and free of that starchy/sickly sweet dang wang tang; the curse of pretty much every store-bought tort in the lower 48. Admittedly, they are a bit thicker than what I know and don’t make for very decent burros, but hey, so is/does/n’t Chicago.


Here’s what got stuffed or inhaled alongside these worshipable torts lately:

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As the IFLAG blog slogan goes, too much thinking can ruin a good meal and I’ve obviously taxed both hemisphere’s for this post because I’m straying from the New Lion tort praise conjuring up comparisons to Salvadorian foodstuffs, thinking maybe these aren’t tortillas after all. Maybe if you read this and were thinking of heading over to Pilsen for a dozen you’d better not because at 5:45PM last Friday I cleared the shelf.  No, really, they’re awful. They crumble, are non-absorbent and aren’t even worth the lard they may or may not have been made with…and oh yeah, watch out for  the zombies.