Monday, December 15, 2014

The Catcher in the Rye - Why it Matters to so Many

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2014
Holden Caulfield is one of the best loved fictional characters in American literature.  After learning of the death of beloved author J. D Salinger in 2010, I remembered my first experience of his controversial novel that kept me thinking about it for years.  It resonated to me in a way that no other novel or work of fiction had.  I used to read everything that came through our house and when there was nothing to read I would re-read already read books.  

I must have been around 17 years old when a copy of J. D. Salinger’s, The Catcher In The Rye came into my hands.  I don’t remember how it ended up in our house.  I opened the book and read the dedication that said, “To my mother”.  It interested me in an eerie strange way, as I had just told my own mother how I hated the fact there was “never” any “good literature” in our house.   I don’t think my mother could relate as she didn’t read much except ocassionaly the bible, religious prayer books, or a newspaper.  But she did understand the need for knowledge and thanks to her, we had a very nice glossy set of  world book encyclopedias.   

The first paragraph in The Catcher in the Rye opens in first person:

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. 

I love the David Copperfield character of the Charles Dickens novel, so naturally I kept reading to know what Holden Caulfield, the fictional character in The Catcher in the Rye had to say.  Holden Caulfield is the narrator and within the narrative there is Holden’s interior monologue, in which there is dialog.  At times it seems as if Holden is talking to you (the reader) inside his head.  It’s as if he’s sharing with the reader, like a friend, his interior thoughts and feelings.  You can hear him actually say things.  It’s an amazing literary feat in which the author allowed the character to tell a story, yet the author is still there to direct the writing.  

A Portrait of J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye was first published in 1951.  It is one of the most read novels of American literature and its author, J.D. Salinger is one of the most famous yet least known, due to his reclusiveness and sudden escape from society after the novel was published.  The main character became so well known, more so than the novelist himself, that it is believed (but never proven) that the fictional character is a biographical mirror of the life, fears, personality, wit, and thoughts of the author.  

Why has The Catcher in the Rye mattered so much to so many people for so long?  Holden, the main character never feels like he’s being heard, yet the reader is the only listener.  We read The Catcher in the Rye and feel like the book understands us in every way.  Holden, who is sixteen years old lives the story that he later narrates at the age of seventeen.  As Holden tell us his story, he rants about all the people involved in his life and how they’re all too “self absorbed” and never listen to what he had to say.  To Holden, they’re all phonies and the only people he can get to listen to him are his sister and a probable creeper.  He found a way to narrate his story and make us care.  As readers, we understand him and we can listen to his inner voice.   Holden let us see the world thru his eyes and as he narrates he makes us feel that we are there, experiencing everything in his head. 

There are 26 chapters in the book and it is worth the read.  The pages seem to go by so fast as it captures the reader into the many stories that are told by Holden in his own voice.  They are stories about how Holden feels about his life, about the many people that are in his life that just don’t seem to “get it”, that don’t understand how improper, impure, or superficial they are.  Many of the characters according to Holden are phonies, the word used often by Holden to describe people whom are not genuine, fraudulent, or superficial.  In fact, Holden holds many in this category except himself and some nuns.

What makes the book so great?  The book is written in a very surprising, unpredictable way and it rapidly reveals the life of Holden in an almost humorous way that only the readers and Holden believe.  Even though Holden’s point of view derives from his self justified disorderly thinking, his manner of ranting about his life is grabbing and entertaining.       

Though controversial, the novel appealed to a great number of people.  Many people could relate to The Catcher in the Rye as it spoke of an individual’s alienation within a heartless world.  Holden seemed to stand for young people everywhere, who felt themselves beset on all sides by pressures to grow up and live their lives according to the rules, to loose individuality, to restrict their own personalities, to “blend in”, and to fit into societal and cultural expectations.

At the time when the book was published, social expectations and cultural norm were different.  It was a different time.   As a result, the novel caused quite a stir because it contained profanity and part of the text discussed adolescent sexuality in a complex and open way, provoking great controversy.  The book was banned and shunned from many public libraries and schools.  Censorship might have kept the book out of some communities, but it did not keep the book away from the hands of readers and thru the years it has proven to be one of the best novels of the 20th century.  It has been translated into almost all of the world's major languages, selling over 65 million copies.  

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though.” 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Coconut Flan - A Latin Dream

Coconut Flan
Photo by Leticia Alaniz © 2014 All Rights Reserved
Dream a little dream with this heavenly coconut flan.  It’s creamy, coconuty, silky and so delicious!  The feeling you get while eating this wonderful traditional desert is like sleeping on a cloud. 

They say there is a love language when expressing love and I believe one of the “love languages” is simply food.  I like to demonstrate love in the kitchen with delectable creations that express everything that love encompasses and the need to have our loved ones by our side.  Therefore, all the cooking that I do is based on love and my love of food.  

Flan is perhaps one of my favorite deserts because it’s a simple custard, yet its one of the most traditional latin deserts.  In México, you can find many street vendors called flaneros selling little cups of flan from their colorful carts in many of the plazas and markets.  Made with time, passion and devotion it becomes magic in the kitchen.  Flan seems to take on the silky voice of the soprano in an opera.

To prepare this flan you will need fresh sweet flaked coconut, but if fresh coconut is out of reach you can substitute dry coconut.  Another special ingredient is dark rum.  You can use a little for the recipe and pour another small  portion over ice with a splash of lime to enjoy for yourself while making the desert.  Beware!  Once you cut the first slice you will easily be transported to the tropics, hear the ocean waves and even feel your feet buried in the soft sand.  Start dreaming! 

(This recipe can serve at least eight slices.  But if you become a little greedy like me, you can serve a few slices, then hide the rest for yourself in the back of the refrigerator).


1/2 cup white sugar
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (15 oz) can coconut milk
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
12 oz cream cheese at room temperature
1 to 2 tablespoons of dark rum
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup of shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (175 degrees C).
In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt sugar until liquefied and golden in color.  Carefully pour hot caramel into a baking dish or flan dish, turning the dish to evenly coat the bottom and sides.  Set aside.  
In a large bowl, beat eggs, condensed milk, coconut milk, evaporated milk, rum, vanilla and half of the shredded coconut.  Last, beat in cream cheese until very smooth.  If you prefer, a blender can also be used.  
Pour egg mixture into baking dish.  Cover with aluminum foil.  It will need to bake a la bain-marie or water-bath in the oven.  Set the dish into a large baking pan with sides and carefully pour hot water around the flan dish to come 2/3 the way up the sides.  
Bake in preheated oven 60 minutes.  Let cool completely.
Chill in refrigerator preferably overnight.  
To serve, carefully invert on serving plate.  Toast remainder of coconut and garnish the flan.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Masala Egg Curry

Masala Egg Curry
Photograph by Leticia Alaniz © 2014
All Rights Reserved
Every culture has its comfort foods; those foods that make us feel good and that we can accomplish to cook at home with a few ingredients and repeat the recipe over and over again.  They become staples in the household or maybe even become a tradition on specific days and fill our memories with joy as we look forward to sitting down at home to a nice warm plate of comfort food.  Everything about comfort food is calming and soothing.  

Thinking more of an international palate I started wondering what the comfort foods of other cultures might be.  In my Mexican culture I remember coming home to a bowl of warm and spicy pinole atole or porridge that was made of ground toasted corn, cinnamon, cloves, anise seeds, sugar, and milk.  It was heavenly aromatic goodness.  My mother used to first toast the dry corn in a clay pot called a cazuela, then grind the corn which filled the house with a wonderful aroma.  The next step was to add the milk, the spices and the sugar and stir until it became a creamy, fluffy porridge.  It was especially good on chilly rainy days.  It became a tradition since my father grew a lot of corn and there was always plenty of it.  

Weekend breakfasts have always been a comforting time to spend with the family in our household.  They always seem to be a lot more special, elaborate and laid back.  Since egg dishes form a great part of Mexican breakfasts, I decided to seek out egg dishes of Indian cuisine.  There are so many varieties.  Most dishes include plenty of chile and spice.  They’re a reminder of what I’m already used to in Mexican egg dishes which always feature lots of warm spicy salsa and tortillas.  

There is no doubt that egg is an essential protein and naturally, I found a perfect Indian dish that can be prepared easily which fills the protein requirement in our diets and fits the description of spicy, aromatic, warm, and most of all comforting deliciousness.  It is comparable to the Mexican dish huevos rancheros, except the eggs are hard boiled first.   I like to prepare this dish for anytime of the day, but I especially like it for breakfast served with chapatis or tortillas, roasted potatoes, yoghurt, fruit, and a very hot and fragrant fresh cup of coffee.

Masala Egg Curry

4 large or extra large eggs, hard-boiled
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3-inch piece cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons ground coriander or coriander seed, toasted and pounded
1/2 teaspoon ground dried red chile
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 medium or 1 large ripe tomato chopped in small pieces or pureed (about 3/4 cup)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

1. Peel the eggs and let them soak in water to cover while you prepare the sauce. 

2. In a medium skillet or wide, shallow pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the turmeric powder to the oil and let soak for about 30 seconds.  Add the eggs and swirl around for about a minute until they are fried and coated in the turmeric oil.  Take out the eggs and set aside.  To the same oil, add the cumin seed and cook, stirring, for about 15 seconds, until slightly darkened and fragrant.  

Add the onion and cinnamon. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes, until the onion has become a golden brown. Add the coriander, red ground chile, garlic, and salt.

Continue cooking for about 2 minutes, until the garlic has lightly fried.

Add the tomato and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring, until it softens and thickens.  Add the water, bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer for 5 minutes to develop the flavor.
3. When the sauce has finished simmering, uncover and slide the eggs in. Increase the heat to medium-low and simmer the eggs, spooning sauce on the top, until the eggs are hot. Adjust the heat as necessary. The sauce should cook down and thicken a bit during this final stage.

4. Transfer the eggs and sauce to individual serving dishes or a communal dish. Garnish with the cilantro and serve immediately.
This recipe serves 2  
( In the photo above I doubled the recipe)