Monday, June 25, 2018

Margarita al Pastor - It's a Tacos al Pastor Devilish Cocktail

Margarita al Pastor
Photograph © Leticia Alaniz 2018
All Rights Reserved
Want to know about a tongue tickling summer beverage that has tacos al pastor written all over it?  It’s the Margarita al Pastor.  Literally, if you love tacos you don't neeed a translation for tacos al pastor.  If you like the namesake tacos, you’ll love the take on this smooth Margarita that’s an explosion of flavors reminiscent of the famed Mexican street tacos.  It’s a diablura (devilish) of a cocktail that will make you hungry and by the third sip, you’ll be hooked.     

It starts by combining spices, herbs, pineapple juice, lime juice … and all that goes into a traditional Margarita (except triple sec, it's sweet and sour enough without it).  Creative mixologist Gabriel Orta shares his recipe for a spicy cordial that can be pre-made for the Margarita al Pastor.  But my take on the Margarita also includes muddled cilantro and basil as the base for the preparation.  It’s kind of like the fresh cilantro you add to your tacos before enjoying.  

Have a Margarita al Pastor and enjoy the recipe below.  Let me know in the comments what your friends or family say about it when you surprise them with this amazing taco-in-a-glass cocktail that pairs the flavors of Mexico, elixirs, and the famed blue agave mezcal of the regions.  One last thing, I recommend you use good quality spirits. 

First Step: Chorizo Spice Syrup


2 qt of water
1/4 C cumin seeds
1/4 C smoked paprika
1/4 C black peppercorns
3  dried chiles, halved and deseeded  (Ancho, Morita, or Chipotle)
1 C sugar
1/2 C mezcal joven

In a large pot, bring water to a boil.  Add the cumin seeds, smoked paprika, peppercorns, and dried chiles.  Stir and boil, uncovered, for 10 minutes.  Add sugar and stir to dissolve.  Once the sugar is dissolved, reduce heat, simmer for another 5-10 minutes.  Turn off the heat.  Strain liquid into a container.  When liquid has cooled, pour half (4 cups) into a container and add 1/2 a cup of mezcal joven.  The rest of the spice syrup can be reserved for up to a month in a sealed container, refrigerated for another batch.  Just make sure to add the 1/2 cup mezcal before making more cocktails.      

Margarita Al Pastor

  • Ice cubes
  • 1 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz Chorizo spice syrup
  • 1 1/2 oz 100% blue agave mezcal 
  • Fresh cilantro, fresh basil leaves

Spicy Rimming Sugar

  • 1 Tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • Sliced pineapple for garnish

  • Directions

  • Roll a cocktail or traditional Margarita glass around with a cut lime or a piece of pineapple, then press into the spicy rimming sugar on a plate.  Set glass aside.  In a cocktail shaker muddle a few leaves of cilantro and one basil leaf.  Next, fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add lime juice, pineapple juice, Chorizo Spice Syrup, and mezcal. Cover and shake until mixed and chilled, about 30 seconds. (In general, the drink is ready by the time the shaker mists up.)  There should be a froth on top from the vigorous shaking.  Fill glass with ice cubes,  Strain margarita into the glass.  Finish with a little dusting of the spicy rimming sugar and garnish with a pineapple slice.  Serve.  

  • © Leticia Alaniz 2018  All Rights Reserved   

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Leah Chase - One Bowl of Gumbo at a Time

Chef Leah Chase in her kitchen at Dooky Chase Restaurant, New Orleans, LA
Photo by Cheryl Gerber NOLA 
One of the most iconic dishes from New Orleans, Louisiana representing Creole cuisine is seafood gumbo.  With the mighty Mississippi river going through the heart of New Orleans pushing water straight into the Gulf of Mexico, it creates an array of treasures from the sea which define much of New Orleans Creole and Cajun cuisine.  

Just as iconic is a woman who doesn’t need much of an introduction.  She’s the undisputed Queen of Creole that might as well have the title of Queen of Hearts.  Born in Madisonville, Louisiana, she possesses magical culinary skills and a big heart with which for over seven decades, has been cooking for many of the Civil Rights leaders, the rich and famous, musicians, poets, novelists, visitors, American presidents, world diplomats, blacks and whites, and anyone with an appetite for good, home-cooked, creole food in her legendary restaurant Dooky Chase.   

Mrs. Leah Chase came into the business when she married jazz musician Edgar “Dooky” Chase II.  His parents owned a corner stand that sold lottery tickets and homemade po’boy sandwiches.  Mrs. Chase worked in the kitchen during the 1950’s, and over time, Leah and Dooky took over the stand and converted it into a restaurant establishment.  Leah presided over the kitchen and was the visionary of home-cooked creole food.  She was not formally trained yet her hospitality only matched the service. She quietly served at a time when tensions in the south were brutal and the Jim Crow laws became the canon for segregation, discrimination, and cruelty.  

At Dooky Chase’s, one bowl of gumbo at a time, Mrs. Chase fed the hungry for equality, the hungry for the right to vote, the hungry for a right to live and raise families in a society of equal justice for all.  She fed the Civil Rights leaders in the 1960’s that would front the fight to end racial injustices and violence.  Her restaurant became the meeting place where strategies would be planned by Martin Luther King Jr., the Freedom Riders, and student activists.  Dooky Chase was the only place where the black communities in New Orleans could meet despite the “secret meetings” being illegal.  Quietly, congregated to take a stand against the oppressors, gumbo and fried chicken became the nourishment that would become the Civil Rights Movement.  

Much of the celebrating in New Orleans revolves around food.  Therefore, New Orleans was the destination for my birthday in November.  I had the honor of celebrating with Mrs. Leah Chase and my loved ones.  The gumbo she made that day was extra special with a  generous serving of blue crabs and gulf shrimp.  The heartiness of the stew is the story of the triumph to make the world a better place.  Her voice and loving heart touch you in a way that will forever prompt you to aspire to become a better person.

Of course, we talked about food and how it shapes us today.  Food creates memories and eventually becomes the tool of communication between cultures and races.  Best of all food becomes a tool for peace.  Because you can’t sit down for peace talks without good food.  Mrs. Chase is a defender of women’s rights.  We talked about what it means to be a woman and a part of the system today where women have come a long way in human rights.  And speaking of culture, she mentioned the Oaxacan mole negro, and how much she loves the Mexican indigenous foods and the deep south tamales of Veracruz.  She loved meeting Vijay and told him to bring her a plate of traditional Andhra Indian food on our next visit.  So I made a promise to return for another bowl of her creole seafood gumbo.   
Chef Leah Chase & Leticia Alaniz
Photo by Vijay Marrivada

- “You think creole gumbo is special?  Food is precious and we must treat it like that.  And I love a person that loves food and comes from so far away to visit me to try my food.  I know you and I have a connection thru food so that makes you special."   

Leah Chase tells it like it is.  I will forever treasure her words which did make me feel very special in her kitchen in New Orleans. 

Mrs. Leah Chase has been honored with numerous awards and accolades:

James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award (2016)
NOLA Award Best Fried Chicken (2014)
James Beard Foundation Who's Who of Food & Beverage (2010)
Southern Foodways Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award (2000)
Honorary Degree Tulane University
Honorary Degree Loyola University New Orleans
Honorary Degree Johnson & Wales University
Times-Picayune Loving Cup Award (1997)
Honorary Degree Our Lady of Holy Cross College
Honorary Degree Madonna College  

Among her other projects are a televised cooking show devoted to Creole cooking, and is the author of several cookbooks:

  • The Dooky Chase Cookbook (1990) 
  • And I Still Cook (2003)
  • Down Home Healthy : Family Recipes of Black American Chefs (1994)

Written by Leticia Alaniz
© 2018

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Tree Within / Árbol Adentro - A Byzantine Mosaic In Honor of Octavio Paz

A Tree Within / Árbol Adentro
Byzantine Glass Mosaic by Leticia Alaniz © 2018
A pattern of design made from thousands of tiny brilliant cut glass, stone, shells, gold, or ceramic pieces has been the subject of awe and admiration in many cultures.  The physical presence of a mosaic mural has been since time immemorial a system of pictures to tell stories and convey histories.  It has been the art of eternity which explores vibrant, colorful and energetic pasts.  

Among the many design elements is the tree of life.  It’s a concept that symbolizes the beginning of life and the origin of everything.  For thousands of years in almost all cultures, religions, mythologies, and philosophies, the tree has been an icon and a theme that we encounter in daily life.  As a sacred symbol, it has mystified and has been the subject of celebration of deities and is a direct link to the divine and the mythical cosmologies.  

The tree has roots that reach deeply into the depths which take nourishment from Mother Earth and thru its upward reaching branches it absorbs light from the sun.  A tree symbolizes generations of families that grow and create new fruit to begin a new generation.  Trees have a cycle of life that regenerate with the seasons making it a symbol of immortality, rebirth and the duality of life and death.  The grandness of a tree connects all forms of creation, heaven, the underworld, and knowledge that resides in our past, present, and future.

In his poem Árbol Adentro / A Tree Within, Mexican Nobel Laureate Octavio Paz created a metaphysical metaphor of an inverted tree which grows within his body. With its canopy and leaves up in his head, the words depict an illustration of desire inspired by the beauty and presence of a woman.  The poem establishes that “Its roots are veins…”  The branches stretch out into the inner depths of his nerves and the body’s extremities, “Thoughts are its tangled foliage…”  The poet describes an escalating passion that ends with a metaphorical touch “Whose glance sets it on fire…” provoking the love and the other person’s presence to be inflamed with desire.  The themes of the tree suggest a sexual encounter with the pomegranate seeds in reference to a man’s seed, “Day Breaks / In the body’s night…”  Its an acknowledgment of his need for the love of the woman.  In the final lines, the poem entices the other to come closer and, “Hear the tree speak.”

Mexican Poet Octavio Paz
There is no doubt that Octavio Paz left his mark on the world of poetry and is a force to be reckoned with.  Just the same, his poetry has greatly influenced me in the creation of my own art, photography, and writings.  As an homage to his poem Árbol Adentro / A Tree Within, I created this mosaic tree in Mexican and Venetian smalti tesserae glass in the tradition of the ancient Byzantine art.  With branches of pure gold smalti tesserae and cobalt blue representing a life cycle.  Red as a symbol of blood and earth reaching up to the trunk and the branches feeding life to the tree giving it a sense of timelessness and eternal life.  
Filmmaker & Artist Leticia Alaniz
© 2018
Mexican Huipil Crafted & Designed by Poet Natalia Toledo
A Tree Within

A tree grew inside my head.
A tree grew in.
Its roots are veins,
its branches nerves,
thoughts its tangled foliage
Your glance sets it on fire,
and its fruits of shade
are blood oranges
and pomegranates of flame.

Day breaks

in the body's night.
There, within, inside my head,
the tree speaks.

Come closer - can you hear it?

Octavio Paz

© Leticia Alaniz 2018
All Rights Reserved