Friday, February 4, 2011

On The Border

From a foodie's standpoint, one of the benefits of living in Southern California, is the availability of fresh, authentic Mexican cuisine.  With take-away taco shops on every neighborhood corner, it's impossible to avoid the lure of fresh, handmade corn tortillas, and homemade pork tamales, fresh fish tacos, and ceviche (a marinated seafood cocktail), and nacho bars offering a selection of piquant salsas, zesty pickled peppers, salty, homemade tortilla chips, and rich guacamole.

While living in Escondido, I became addicted to the homemade salsas assembled and sold at our neighborhood produce stand.  Their pureed cooked salsa was my personal, all-time favorite, so I made a point of stopping in late every afternoon for a fresh container.  While there, I'd pick up a handful of fresh avocados, a vegetable for dinner, and a local melon, mango or other fruit for desert.

Learning the language of the local produce was a challenge at first.  There are endless numbers of chilies and peppers available.  I never really did learn to distinguish which peppers were which at the really hot end of the scale.  I knew enough to understand that I was better off selecting the milder alternatives, and rarely experimented with the unfamiliar.  Call me cowardly, but for me, the good old jalapeno pepper was as hot as it got!

Growing up in the mid-western United States in the 1960s and '70s, I thought Mexican meant chili powder and red kidney beans.  It was while living in California, that I discovered cumin, coriander and fresh cilantro, staple ingredients in many Mexican dishes.  I still remember my first mouthful of avocado, which had been added, along with alfalfa sprouts, to an otherwise traditional bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich at a hole-in-the-wall sub shop in Mission Viejo.  It was 1977, long before the days of Subway and Quiznos.  I had just graduated from high school, and moved with my family to California.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.  

Twenty-five years later in Camarillo, California, I owned my own mini-grove of Haas avocados trees.  We haphazardly grew our avocados the size of small ostrich eggs, much to chagrin of the big grove owners who were having trouble producing an avocado larger than a small pear.  I hated leaving those trees behind when we headed south to San Diego, and I still cringe at paying $1.50+ for what is laughingly referred to as an avocado in the grocery store.

While living in Camarillo, we dined once a week at a little local hideaway called Lalos.  There, I fell in love with Carnitas, which is braised or roasted pork shoulder, served with fresh flour tortillas, shredded lettuce, Mexican rice, creamy beans, and fresh guacamole.  It's to die for, especially when chased by a pitcher of golden Margaritas.

Happy as I am to be back in western Pennsylvania, I must admit to missing real Mexican food (chain restaurants - bah!).  Fortunately, I've a binder of recipes, and a pretty cool Mexican market in Pittsburgh's Strip District, that I can go to satisfy my craving.  If only I could find a way to transport a case of my favorite salsa.  Darn airport security!!

Some of my favorite Mexican recipes may be found on this site, labeled Mexican.

Churros, are Mexican doughnuts rolled in a cinnamon-sugar-cardamom mixture.  Delicious! 

Produce photos and the cowboy placard were taken at my favorite produce stand in Escondido.

1 comment:

  1. Want to wander back ths afternoon and check out your recipes...looks like my kind of cookin'
    I grew up in Fallbrook, by Vista, CA....know right where Escondido is :)