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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Madelaine cakes American style by John von Daler

                Jolting memories by tasting, Marcel Proust's domain if you will, came knocking on my mental door this morning. Unlike Proust, though, I remembered the food of my childhood - and that awakened memories, well, of more food. I remembered a Mexican restaurant close by a park in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a place we could afford - a place I loved. I think it was called "Little Mexico".
                 Two tastes come to mind: coriander leaves (or cilantro if you will) in the guacamole, that pungent (some say soapy, but they should have their mouths washed out with it), taste that turns hand-mashed avocado, garlic, lemon and oil into something very distinctive. I remember choosing between crispy, hot corn tortillas and their soft, flexible variation to spread the light, green mixture on. When we made our own guacamole at home, we never used fresh coriander in those days. That, of course, is now a deadly sin and punishable by a month's incarceration in a roadside cafeteria that serves white sandwiches of soft, commercial cheese packaged in plastic.
                The other taste to be remembered from the same little Mexican restaurant is cumin. Their chili tasted of cumin the way aioli tastes of garlic: without me, you are nothing! Later in life I rediscovered cumin in African food and had to introduce the taste to my Danish friends who call it "pointed caraway". Now with globalization I taste it often in new combinations, but always with a quick salute to "Little Mexico".
                When I make chili now I usually start with venison and/or lamb (and suet), because they have a lot more good taste than commercial chopped beef, which usually is filled with water. I brown the whole cumin seeds on a pan to get their tastes going and then grind them with a little salt by hand in a mortar and add them to the fried onions and meat. Afterwards I add red kidney beans, some tomato sauce, fresh garlic and chili pepper. The taste of the browned cumin tops off the whole thing.
                Rediscovering something from childhood can be a great thing, but I must admit that these days I never, ever finish off guacamole and chili con carne with a large glass of milk, the way I did then. I take a beer or two, good memories not withstanding. I think Proust would have approved.

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