Monday, March 21, 2011

A Proper Torta

The Mexican torta, which as my readers know is Mexico's gift to mankind, is one of the greatest sandwiches in the world, if not the very best. I contend it is greater than the hamburger because the torta is a versatile vessel. Like the taco, another food of genius, the torta can contain pretty much anything you want inside, as long as it's coherent with Mexican food flavors. You can't have a torta de sushi but you can have a torta de tamal.

Notice the thin layers in the torta de milanesa on the right.
However, you have to know how to build it. It's not a free for all.  But this is where gringos miss the point about Mexican food. It's not a mountain of beans and shredded lettuce. There is a method to our culinary genius and you just don't get it.
Recently, I had an offensive torta experience at Pinche Taquería in New York City. There are many reasons to complain about the way this place sells their tortas:

1. Tortas are flexible and versatile. So the customer should be able to order a torta of ham with cheese or with egg or with whatever we damn well please, as long as it is coherent. These people won't do that for you. You can only choose from their meats. They will not make a ham and egg torta for you. This runs against the philosophy of Mexican food.
2. If every ingredient explodes out of the torta when you bite into it, the thing has not been properly assembled. A torta is a layered affair, not a hodgepodge of anything you can find in your fridge. And someone should declare a moratorium on shredded lettuce or shredded cabbage in Mexican food in the US. I don't know where you got that from. If I order a roast chicken torta and I can barely find the chicken among the shrubbery, this is not good. By the way, that chicken was unrecognizable and cut in little chunks.
3. I find it appalling that instead of tomato slices, these people use tomato chunks.
4. I like queso Oaxaca as much as anybody, but it has no place in cubes inside a torta de pollo asado.
Even with these awful mistakes, this torta was a thousand times better than any regular deli sandwich. Because it had good beans, and mild jalapeños and avocado.
Now, there are different torta assembling techniques, but what you have to know is that you layer the ingredients, which should be kind of flat or thin. That's why cubes of things don't work. See exhibit A above.
You can make hot tortas and room temperature tortas.
Imagine that you want a ham and cheese torta. You get bolillo o telera bread (Portuguese rolls are perfect). You slice the bread in 2 halves and heat it in on a grill.

At fabulous Tortas Don Polo (there's a branch in the Mexico City airport, you lucky travelers), they heat everything in the grill; the ham, they melt the cheese, etc.

Tortas Don Polo. Since 1956. Now at the airport.
You may spread some butter and/or mayo on the bread. 
Then spread refried beans on both halves, not arctic cold from your fridge, and not whole beans like in the offending torta above.  It should be at least room temperature.
Layer some avocado slices, the ham with melted cheese, thin tomato slices, jalapeños or chipotles according to your tolerance for spice. Lettuce is optional, but if you are going for it, it better be minimal. It's only there for crunch, so no arugula (like they do at Café Habana in Soho). I've never seen a torta with shredded cabbage in my life. Some people add onion.
The cheese can actually be American cheese or Oaxaca cheese. I like American.
The key is not to put a pound of meat inside. A few thin slices will do. The idea is small layers of many flavors, as opposed to one overpowering flavor surrounded by ineffectual decoration. A good torta should be a manageable affair and an explosion of flavors and textures in your mouth, not on your shirt.

Half eaten Don Polo torta de jamón con queso.
Since I arrived in 1992, my dream is to open a tortería in New York City.
Any venture capitalists out there?

By the way, yesterday I caught a couple of minutes of that aberration on TV, America's Next Best Restaurant.  Most of the food presented was disgusting chazerai. Absolute cluelessness and horrible concepts. This program is a crime.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Ricky Don't Lose That Number

It is true. Nobody calls anymore. I remember eons ago, when I was a young woman, I'd hang my every hope on finding messages in the answering machine when I came home from work. For the most part, the contraption remained stubbornly silent. Or I got calls from horrid schmucks I didn't want to date in the first place. I found it offensive that some overly concerned yenta had given them my phone number without asking first. So rude! But I digress. Now that I am an old, I love coming home to find the answering machine mute and unblinking; the deader, the better. My house is an oasis of quiet bliss. Every time there is a message, I jump from the fright. Except recently. I'm suddenly getting really annoying robo-calls from Charlie Rangel and Gov. Cuomo and these obnoxious politicians who should know better. Apparently, being in the No Call List (it works!) does not exempt us from being pestered by campaign callers. This should be illegal. It drives me crazy. It makes me feel like voting for the other side. It also brings out the Travis Bickle in me. I get an uncontrollable urge to buy myself a green flak jacket, get a mohawk and a sexy mole in one cheek and spray a hail of bullets into whoever is making these calls. "You talkin' to me?" Not anymore!
By the way, don't they know that we all have caller id?
The article in the NYT about the phone going the way of the dodo claims that is rude of people to call you on the phone. It's not rude if they actually know you and if they don't do it at ungodly hours. What I find even more rude and annoying than phone calls is internet chatting. I hate skype. I hate IM. Yes they are very practical, and on ocassion fun, but I rarely jump without warning into someone's busy moments of trolling around on the computer. The phone at least alerts you. I find people who jump into my virtual space on chat is like them walking into my house unannounced and uninvited. What if I'm naked, or wearing pajamas at 5 in the afternoon?
Despite my Travis Bickle tendencies, I pride myself in being a polite person. So I resent the fact that when I choose to ignore a friend who is trying to chat me up in facebook, I look like I am the one being rude. Bottom line is, people should know if they are desired. Facebook is not an equalizer. There are people who I will always be happy to hear from and be interrupted by. You gotta figure out if you are one of them. And you should know.
Many a horrible fight has been had through skype, because people are even more inarticulate and vague in writing than they are when speaking, and one cannot always discern the tone of voice in a skyped argument.  People, if you are going to text or chat, or email, you gotta be precise. Who, when, what, where, how and why?
I get texts from people who do not identify themselves. How the hell am I supposed to know who they are? My phone doesn't always show their name for some reason.
This drives me crazy. 
All this is to say that people should use texting, chatting and email etiquette.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I Am A Self-Loving Jew

...not an anti-Semite or a self-hating Jew. Quite the contrary, I believe in the survival of the state of Israel and want to see it thrive in peace and belong to community of nations forever. So that is why I urge everybody who is interested in this tiresome topic to read David Remnick's lucid, cogent, and eloquent comment on the state of affairs between Israel and the US right now. He is not a self-hating Jew nor an antisemite either. It is now possible, and in fact, desirable, to better support Israel by dissenting from the monolithic and sclerotic AIPAC with its "the shtetl is burning" and "everything Israel does is always good" rhetoric. Unfortunately, the Israelis voted for a right wing government that continues to isolate and almost immolate itself instead of working towards a solution to their geopolitical problems. As Jews, we have an obligation to support Israel, but not when it is doing everything in its power to paint itself into an untenable corner.
Nobody's being naive. We are well aware of the hateful agendas of our enemies. But if their societies can revolt for change, then certainly Israel, a democracy, and a first world country, can work to change the terrible paradigm it has locked itself into.  The world is changing. Now there is an alternative Israel lobby in Washington. Now there are other legitimate Pro-Israel voices that have a different idea as to what will ensure the survival of the state. There should be vigorous debate within the Jewish communities, not only in the US but all over the world, as to what is truly best for Israel now.
Just don't tell me I hate Israel because I don't happen to agree with its policies.
That ain't flying anymore.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Earthquake Memories

I was in the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, which was a devastating 8.1 on the Richter scale. I cannot begin to imagine what an 8.9 earthquake feels like.
This current disaster in Japan reminded me of that terrifying morning.
On September 19, 1985, at 7:19 in the morning, I was awakened by my bed swaying as if it were on a boat in the ocean. I could hear my mom and my sisters outside, so I left my room and found them all standing beneath the doorway to my mother's bedroom (my dad had died the year before). We lived on the 10th floor of an apartment building and conventional wisdom was that that's where you stand, I don't know exactly why, but it has something to do with the supporting columns of the building. Nobody had ever heard of a contingency plan or emergency supplies or anything. The first thing that grabs your mind under the circumstances is that there is not much you can do, except wait it out and hope and pray the walls don't flatten you.
My mom attempted a few brave yet feeble jokes but, as this thing kept getting more intense, soon she was praying. If at the beginning the ground was swaying, at a certain point it started shaking. Every Mexican (we are all amateur experts on earthquakes) can tell you the difference between oscillatory quakes (swaying) and trepidatory quakes (shaking up and down). This one was both. At the time, I was a confirmed agnostic, but I could hear myself praying for this thing to stop. In the end, the quake lasted almost four minutes, which is an eternity. Besides the terrifying fact of the Earth moving below you, and you being totally powerless to stop it, I will never forget the sounds the building was making. The walls and columns were creaking loudly from inside, the windows were rattling and there was a hum of everything shaking everywhere. It was like noise and eerie quiet at the same time. Lamps, tchotchkes, everything sways and slips and bumps, but in our house nothing broke or fell down. We lived in an area with harder soil than downtown DF, which is built on a dried lake bed, has softer soil and always suffers much bigger damage in earthquakes. We turned on the TV and saw the morning news anchors sitting at their desk swaying and shaking, trying to remain calm and proceed with the news that an earthquake was in progress. Then the signal was lost. When that happened I got very scared. Later on, we found out their building had collapsed.
After what seemed forever, the thing stopped. There are many mini and not so mini aftershocks after a quake, but the feeling is so intense that you may feel the ground moving even if it isn't. It's like when you have spent many hours frolicking in the waves in the ocean, and at night you still feel like you are there. One way to corroborate is to look at the ceiling lamps. If they are swaying, it's still going on.
I went to the window and saw nothing unusual. All the tall condos surrounding us were intact. Everything seemed normal except for people, some in their pajamas, standing on the street looking rather dazed. It was then that I remembered that the day before I had met my architect friend Arturo for coffee and we talked about earthquakes for a long time. We talked about quakes because it was an unusually, oppressively hot day. One of us said, "let's hope this doesn't mean there's gonna be a quake". When the shaking stopped I ran to the phone and tried calling him. I don't remember if I was able to reach him. Phone service was spotty or down. When we turned on the radio, we started hearing about the horrific devastation downtown. Many buildings collapsed. Because it was still early, many people were still at home. Many government buildings, including the enormous General Hospital, collapsed as well, no doubt aided by shoddy construction. My high school chemistry teacher, a sweet woman, died in a government school. The government response was incredibly clueless and incompetent. The president of the country went MIA. Some idiot in the government said we didn't need help from the US. So citizens started taking matters into their own hands. They organized food drives, and many immediately went to the devastated scenes to try to rescue people from the rubble. I went to a food drive at the Red Cross, where we made thousands of tuna sandwiches. Later I learned that some of the donated food was being sold to displaced victims by enterprising crooks.
The next day there was a powerful aftershock (7.5) in the afternoon. I was at the house of a friend. I called my house and the maid told me my mother and my sisters had gone to my aunt's house. As I drove home I saw many people on the street afraid to get back into their houses and buildings. That night, my sisters and I decided we weren't sleeping on no 10th floor. The three of us took refuge at the house of a friend of my sister, a one-story house at ground level, nothing but the ceiling to fall on top of our heads in case of disaster. We must have looked crazy, but this seemed positively reasonable under the circumstances. We left my mother to fend for herself.
For months after that, you could be sitting with people in a room and at the lightest swaying of a curtain or a lamp, people would freak out. I went around our apartment closing open windows so as to avoid the scary spectacle of a stray swaying lamp.
To this day, very occasionally I still have vivid and vertiginous dreams in which I am in that apartment or in a tall building and the building bends down and threatens to fall with me inside.
Courage to the people of Japan.

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

I swooned, but not enough. My review of Jane Eyre.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Juay de Churro?

I am positively flummoxed. My post on Churros is now the most popular post of all time in the history of this blog (six years this very month!).
My pageviews have skyrocketed to the triple digits! It's like the Charlie Sheen of my posts.
From every corner of the world people want to know about churros. But juay? Juay now? Did they run across a churro on the street? Did they see the word in a headline on their local newspaper? Are we being invaded by churros from outer space? What the hell is going on?
Dear readers, I humbly beg you, if you know the answer, please tell me. There is a comment section here that nobody ever seems to use. Make yourselves useful.
Now I feel compelled to tell you everything I know about the churro. Here goes:
• Here is the Wikipedia entry on churros. I find it rather dry and uninspiring. How can you say that the main ingredient in a churro is flour? It's true, but it's like saying that the main ingredient in a cake is flour. It doesn't help anybody.
Churros are fried dough. And fried dough is happiness.
• You must know that in Mexican slang a churro is a word for "turd". It is also used to describe a bad movie. "Un churro Hollywoodense." A Hollywood turd.
• I suspect that some churros that I bought on the platform of the L train a couple of weeks ago was to blame for a sudden and devastating attack of the runs I had in the middle of Williamsburg.
• In Mexico City, the famous Churrería el Moro, which has been there since I believe the 1940's, used to serve only churros with hot chocolate (now I think they serve tortas too).
They had a sign that said:

1 churro 1 peso
2 churros 2 pesos
3 churros 3 pesos
4 churros 4 pesos

Almost ad infinitum.

• Churros are delicious, but they are no good if they are cold. They get chewy.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

This is Why I Hate Fashion People:

Suzy Menkes in today's New York Times:
"Friends of Mr. Galliano, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, say that they have finally persuaded the troubled designer to go immediately into rehab — and that the pace of fashion today, and particularly the rigorous structure of a corporate fashion house, broke the fragile, artistic creator.

While the vile statements seen coming from Mr. Galliano’s drunken lips on the Internet video deserved the nearly-universal condemnation they were receiving, there is pathos in the vision of one of the world’s most famous — and best paid — designers alone, clutching a glass in a bar". 
Well, BOO HOO.
Fashion people are so enamored of their own obscene irrelevancy, living in their own vulgar bubble of banality, that they can actually utter revolting statements like the one above and they don't even know or understand why this is ghastly. 
If stress were a pre-condition and a justification for bigotry, firefighters, air tower controllers, public school teachers, correctional officers, EMT personnel, nurses, among other professionals, would all be screaming racist rants every day. 
Hell, everybody who works in an office in America would belong to the KKK.
Oh, but those who work in fashion are so special and so extraordinary, so "fragile" and "artistic" and this Galliano downfall is such a tragedy... 

Suzy Menkes, give me a fucking break!
I once heard André Leon Talley say "Fashion is hope". Yeah. Tell that to someone who makes a dollar a year in some cholera infested hellhole in the world. 
Recently, Vogue (a magazine I find deeply offensive) ran a spread about the glamorous wife of the Assad tyrant in Syria
I wouldn't be surprised if some designer creates his new collection inspired on Muammar Gaddafi's muumuus. Fashion people are absurd, their world view is absurd and they need to wake up and smell their own bullshit. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

More Antisemitic Idiocy

Or to quote Martin Amis: "The Moronic Inferno".
Everybody hates London's 2012 Olympic logo. It is butt ugly. Offensively unimaginative. Amateurish. An eyesore.
But the Iranian government hates it because, according to them, it spells the word "Zion", revealing a Zionist conspiracy behind the games. Therefore, they are threatening to boycott the Olympics. We should be so lucky!

Some people claim it looks like a swastika. I actually believe it spells "ZORZ", which is a sign of conspiracy of aliens from Evil Planet ZORZ from the galaxy of YORTZ, who are planning to take over the games and hypnotize us all to show us how hatefully stupid humans can be.

Do we need Iran to participate in the games? Not really. Do the oppressed people of Iran need to see their athletes compete with the rest of the world so as not to feel like the pariah nation its evil, benighted leaders insist on making it? Certainly.
Iran is not punishing the world by boycotting the Olympics. It continues to cruelly punish its own people by humiliating them with its theocratic, obscurantist, antisemitic, antidemocratic lunacy.
The only positive byproduct of the recent antisemitic internet-driven frenzy is that it clearly demonstrates how utterly retarded, moronic and imbecilic antisemitism is.
The more people spout it, the stupider and crazier they seem.

Today I read in People Magazine that Oscar winner Natalie Portman, disassociated herself with Dior (she was hired to shill one of their perfumes) because of John Galliano and his love for Hitler.  Perhaps Galliano is not aware that he'd be second in line to the gas chambers right after the Jews for being a homosexual.
But the point is that Portman did and said the right thing:
"I am deeply shocked and disgusted by the video" Portman, 29, said in a statement from Los Angeles. "In light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not be associated with Mr. Galliano in any way."  She adds, "I hope at the very least, these terrible comments remind us to reflect and act upon combating these still-existing prejudices that are the opposite of all that is beautiful."
The bold lettering is mine. Good for you, Portman. The sad part is that the comments section in the online edition of People has been disabled. I wonder why.
The ZORZians from the YORTZ galaxy are coming, and all you morons are not gonna like it when they get here.