True Confessions

Praveen at peace. He doesn't know about the palak paneer.

Person: Praveen
Location: Guwahati, India
Recipe: Vegetable Makhani

I cheated on my Indian couchsurfer. I know. I’m an awful human being.

And this after he brought me diamonds. And pearls. And brass earrings. And an odd but cool-looking key ring that sounds like bells when you shake it.

Diamonds and pearls and silver and brass are a girl's best friend(s).

And tea, god bless him, from his family’s tea plantation in Guwahati in the northeastern state of Assam.

Oh and then, he saved my life. That’s right. He saved my life, metaphorically speaking, anyway.

And still, I cheated on him! I’m clearly an awful human being.

Do you want to know how he saved my life?

Well, for an entire year, I’d been sitting on a free $800 American Airlines ticket to ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD that I snagged after agreeing to be bumped from a flight to France last year.

For a whole year I’d been sitting on that ticket, waiting, just waiting, for the right moment to cash it in so I could fly to ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD.

But then life took over, and I forgot about the ticket. I knew it had to be booked in September, but my day job didn’t allow for more vacation, so I’d purposely delayed booking a flight for as long as possible in order to push it into the following year.

Okay, so now it’s September second, a Friday night, and Praveen is at my house. He’s being incredibly nice.  We’re eating leftovers from an amazing Indian dinner he cooked for me the night before. When all of a sudden, it occurs to me that it’s September, which means, that’s right, that ticket, I need to book it soon because I have ONE YEAR to use it.

Do you see where this is going?

So I open the drawer in which I keep the envelope containing the ticket, pry it open, and discover that it needs to be booked THAT NIGHT!

ओह, नहीं!!  (“Oh, no!” in Hindi)

I start freaking out. I call American Airlines. What can I do? Where can I go? HELP!!!

After some back and forth, the ticket agent and I agree that my best bet is to fly to London on April 1, 2012. Done. Booked.

But wait. No. Not done. Not booked. Because booking over the phone isn’t enough. No. In order to use the free $800 ticket to ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD, I have to BRING IT to the American Airlines counter at J.F.K. Airport and HAND IT to a ticket agent. And did I mention, the counter closes at 10:30 p.m. (it’s now 9:15 p.m.), I’m at least an hour from J.F.K. by subway, my car is in the repair shop, and it’s a holiday weekend, which means everyone and their mother will be on the highway, headed out-of-town.

मदद करो!!!!!! (“Help!” in Hindi)

Which is when Praveen, cool as a cucumber, says, “Don’t worry. I can drive you to J.F.K. I have a Zip car. And it has GPS.”* *(Insert my bad rendition of an Indian accent here.)

I stare at him, eyes melting. “Really? You would do that for me?”

“Of course,” he says, “It’s no trouble. I have GPS.”

At which point I feel EVEN GUILTIER that I CHEATED on Praveen earlier that night by offering him palak paneer that I’d bought that afternoon at a PAKISTANI restaurant! Which just goes to show what a horrible human being I am, and why it’s critical that Praveen NEVER, EVER find out what I did.

Cheating on Praveen at the Pakistani Tea House.

So we get in the car and start driving through the streets of Brooklyn and onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway to get to J.F.K. Airport. But suddenly the GPS starts directing Praveen towards Prospect Expressway, which I would NEVER, EVER take to get to J.F.K.

“Praveen, why is the GPS directing us through East New York, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Brooklyn, in a completely different direction than I’ve EVER taken in my ENTIRE LIFE to get to J.F.K.?”

“Oh, that’s probably because I programmed it to avoid tolls,” he graciously explains, at which point I internally freak out even more, because now I’m sure we will NEVER, EVER get to J.F.K. on time because the local roods will take FOREVER!!!!!!!

But drive we do, through neighborhoods I completely don’t recognize, until we reach J.F.K., at which point we start madly following signs to the departure gate for American Airlines (the last one, of course), and then I’m dashing, but dashing, to the ticket counter and breathlessly explaining to the woman behind the desk my situation, which causes her to stare at me like I’m a crazy person, until I stop blathering, at which point she says to me, “Well you’re one lucky lady, because if you’d gotten here 10 minutes later, we’d be gone.”

And with that, she processes my reservation and hands me a ticket: London, April 1, 2012. Just like that, Praveen has saved my life. Or at least my $800 ticket.

I rush back to the car. I hug Praveen. We both start laughing, amazed at our (my) good fortune. And then we drive back to my apartment, hardly believing we’ve just been through this whirlwind, three-hour escapade.

And as we lay down in our respective beds, I think to myself, “God, how I love couchsurfing, and how grateful I am to have Praveen briefly in my life. But, more importantly, he must NEVER, EVER find out about that palak paneer!

Don't tell him I cheated!

————————————–

Here’s the dish Praveen made for me during his visit. It was delicious, but because I can’t find vegetable makhanwala mix like the one he BROUGHT OVER from India, I’m providing a substitute that should get you in the ballpark.  

And to show you what an even more awful person I am, this photo is NOT the dish Praveen made for me, because that was so good we ate all of it.  No, this is a similar-looking mixed vegetable plate from the Indian restaurant Taste of Tandoor, located at 149 Church Street in lower Manhattan.  If you want to cheat on your Indian couchsurfer while in New York City, you can also visit Pakistani Tea House, just down the street, at 176 Church Street.

Mixed vegetable plate from Taste of Tandoor.

Recipe: Vegetarian Makhani  (Buttery Vegetable Curry)
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Vegetables:
2 1/2 ounces (75 grams) vegetable makhanwala mix if you can find it. If not, try this: Parampara’s Vegetable Jaipuri Mix
15 ounces (425 grams) frozen, defrosted or canned mixed peas and carrots
4 ounces (115 millilitres) milk
1/2 cup (75 grams) red onion, diced
1/4 cup (40 grams) fresh red pepper, diced
2 Tablespoons (30 millilitres) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (3 grams – 1.5 UK teaspoon)  mustard seeds

Rice:
3 to 4 cups (560 grams) pre-cooked white rice
1/2 cup (75 grams) red onion, diced
2-3 Tablespoons (30-140 millilitres) vegetable oil
3/4 (1.8 grams – 1 teaspoon UK) teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon (1.5 grams – .75 UK teaspoon) mustard seeds

Optional for rice:
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek leaves
1/8 teaspoon asafaotida

Spicy World seems to be a good source for Indian spices if you don’t have an Indian grocery in your town, and you can buy from them directly on Amazon.com.

To prepare vegetables:
1. Place oil in frying pan over medium heat.
2. Add mustard seeds, onion, and red pepper.
3. Add 1 cup (250 millilitres) water and the vegetable makhanwala or jaipuri mix.  Stir to combine.  Continue to cook about 5 minutes.
4. Add peas and carrots.  Add milk.  Stir to combine.
5. Lower heat and allow mixture to simmer, covered, until ready to serve.

To prepare rice:
1. In a frying pan, place oil over medium heat.
2. Add cumin, mustard, and red onion.  Add optional spices.  Stir to combine.
5. Add cooked white rice and stir to combine.  Cook over low heat until warmed.

Serve vegetable makhani on top of spiced rice with naan bread as accompaniment.

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Art vs. Food

Person: Deb
Location: Perth, Australia
Food: Chocolate bar

The artist at rest.

Deb makes art, prints to be exact. She came to stay with me on her way to a printmaking residency in Canada she’d won an award to attend. She’d flown more than halfway around the globe for the opportunity. And now, here she was, on my couch, readying herself for the next phase of her career.

Find Your Way - by Deb Taylor

As I recall, she ate little. Food a kind of afterthought. Her attention was elsewhere. To home, where her son was, and the future, where she would soon be able to create without limits.

Tracking and retracking by Deb Taylor

We shared few words, yet something passed between us. An awareness of the other’s presence. The knowing of silence within an enclosed space. Sometimes those who speak the least leave the deepest impression.

Untitled-1

She sent me a link to her artwork recently. Her prints are rich with color and texture. The quiet beauty suggesting, perhaps like her, a wild current beneath a still surface.

Untitled (River 2)

She didn’t bring a recipe, rather a small box of Australian candy bars. They were made of dark chocolate with a cherry interior and covered in coconut. Lamington cakes morphed into alternate form. They were lovely.

For the artist, food is a secondary concern. So long as there’s money for paint and brushes, all is right with the world.

And perhaps, for some, art trumps food as a necessity. The body knowing and the mind sensing the stronger impulse. To create. At any cost. Wherever it takes you. Even if it’s across the globe. To a stranger’s couch.  Being fed never was the point.

Earth

To see more of Deb Taylor’s work, visit her website.


What Goes Around Comes Around

Betty on the couch.

Person: Betty Hoops
Location: Aspen, Colorado
Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake

“I have a woman who was in the Guinness Book of World Records staying with me!” I tell anyone who’ll listen, after Betty Hoops writes to ask if she can couchsurf with me.

“She set the 2008 world record for hoop running in distance and speed! That means she ran a 10K race while hula hooping, without stopping, dropping, or touching the hoop. She even hula-hoops while snowboarding! How cool is that?”

Betty finishing the Bolder Boulder in Colorado.

Betty is from New York, Westchester to be exact.
For years though, she’s lived in Aspen, Colorado.
“I need the mountains,” she says, when I ask her why she lives there, after explaining how hard it is to get attention for what she does, living so far from New York and L.A.
“I feel a connection there that I don’t get anywhere else.”

Betty on Mount Sopris Summit doing 'Spinning for Peace.'

Betty never imagined she’d be a hula hooper though. Originally, she studied cooking at the C.I.A., The Culinary Institute of America. Then, after 9/11, she left her job at a high-end restaurant in Aspen to come to New York to heal people through hooping.

“I’d be walking near Wall Street carrying my hoops, and these construction workers would yell down from the top of a building, ‘Hey, is that a hula hoop? Let me try it!’ And sure enough, they’d come down, and these big guys, I’d teach them to do it right there on the spot. That’s what’s so great about the hoop. Everyone responds to it.”

She taught anyone who would ask. Policemen. Firefighters. Kids traumatized by what had happened that day.

I get off the R train near Washington Square Park.
I’m supposed to meet Betty here so she can teach me to hoop.

Even though I live in New York City, Washington Square Park is a place I don’t hang out at and rarely visit. But when I first moved to the city in the ’80s, as a wide-eyed kid from the Chicago suburbs, to study theater at NYU, Washington Square Park was my backyard.

My roommate, Susan, grew up in the city and attended Stuyvesant High School.
Her friends practically lived in Washington Square Park and, like Betty, they were street performers: jugglers, musicians, magicians, and fire-eaters. They smoked clove cigarettes, drank beer from paper bags, and got stoned while playing Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Dylan on cheap guitars. They took me to parties in lofts and on roofs, and taught me how to be cool, long before I knew what I was doing.

And now, here it was twenty-something years later, a long time since I’d done anything like hula hoop on a Saturday afternoon in Washington Square Park. In fact, I don’t even know if I’ve ever had a hoop around my waist; maybe as a little kid.

Yet the second I arrive at the park, I feel something change inside. Is it Betty, with her mystical, whirling dervish spirit? Hooping like it’s a religion? Like it’s a prayer? Like the gods are smiling when she spins?

The Couchsurfing Cook gets her hoop on.

She turns on a boom box. “Turn it up!” I say, as music fills a park already bursting with people. And, right there, I’m 20 years old again, without a care in the world. The boom box is blaring Michael Jackson and Cindy Lauper, and all the songs I remember from those first years at NYU, when MTV was new and music was what you lived for.

At first, my hips move in awkward middle-aged lady circles. Not like the bone-thin, grade-school girls who pick up a hoop and start moving their tiny waists in circles too small to detect. “How come it keeps going around them, even though they’re barely moving?” I cry to Betty. “It’s so unfair!”

But she’s an amazing teacher and, within moments, the hoop is spinning round. I’m light and free, and whatever reticence I had before to leave my warm, cozy apartment to be outdoors on a cold, Spring afternoon has vanished, disappearing in the pure, unadulterated joy of a hoop.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________
To see how well I did under Betty’s brief, expert tutelage, check out this funny video she and I got roped into performing in that day – a goofy send up of Cee Lo Green’s song, “F-k You!” made by Columbia Business School students. To see us hooping, go to 4:15 in the 4:33 video. Or, for a bigger laugh, watch the whole thing!

Betty makes her own hoops – a softer form that’s easier for beginners and more fun in the long-term. For a 10% discount on your own hoop, email Betty at bettyhooping@gmail.com and put Couchsurfing Cook in the subject line.

Recipe: Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake

Betty started making this cheesecake for friends when she’d go to festivals or snowboarding, and it was always a big hit. Not surprisingly, it’s round, like a hoop.

Vegan Chocolate Cheesecake and Hula Hoop

Ingredients:

4 ounces soy cream cheese . 236 millilitres
8 ounces soy sour cream . 113 grams
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract . 2.5 millilitres
1/2 cup maple syrup . 125 millilitres
4 1/2 ounces grain-sweetened chocolate chips . 177 grams
4 ounces graham crackers . 113 grams
5 tablespoons melted Earth Balance buttery spread or similar butter substitute . 75 milliliters

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Farenheit . 180 Celsius.

2. Blend cream cheese and sour cream in a mixing bowl with the blade set at low speed.

2. Add vanilla extract and maple syrup.

3. Melt chocolate chips in small pan set in larger pan of water or a double boiler. Melt chips over low-medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon. Remove from heat as soon as chips are fully melted.

4. Allow chips to cool slightly, then add to cream cheese-sour cream. Blend again to combine.

5. Place graham crackers in a bowl and, using a heavy object (I used the bottom of a glass measuring cup), crush until they form a soft crumb. You could do this in a Cuisinart as well.

6. Melt butter in small saucepan. Add to graham crackers and stir to combine, making sure crumb is sufficiently moist.

7. With your fingers, press graham cracker crumbs into pie tin, covering bottom and sides to equal thickness. You should have enough crumbs to cover nearly the entire tin sides.

Graham cracker crust in a circle

8. Fill tin with chocolate cream cheese-sour cream mixture.

9. Place in center rack of oven and bake for 45 minutes or until chocolate mixture rises to top and is firm to the touch.

10. Allow to cool on countertop and serve.

Vegan chocolate cheesecake ready to serve.

Women on the Verge of a Dietary Breakdown

Location: Finale Emilia, in the Italian province of Modena
Person: Samantha
Recipe: Spaghetti Carbonara

March is the month in which human beings – trapped inside for months to avoid winter – finally allow ourselves to, well, go a little crazy.

And, being the wise creatures we are, we humans have also realized it’s better to ritualize our weather-induced insanity, rather than let it run amok by, for example, grabbing a club and galumphing over to Frank’s cave next door to knock him upside the head because he and Brenda totally dropped the ball on our plans for a joint Florida cruise!!!!!!

Ah…that feels much better.

How do humans ritualize March madness? Well…

Catholics, and some Christians, celebrate Mardi Gras.

Jews celebrate Purim.

Sports fans celebrate the NCAA Playoffs.

And women celebrate….
Wait a second? Are you kidding me?
That’s how we’re supposed to let loose after months of having to trudge through the snow in our Manolo Blahniks???
By celebrating Women’s History Month????
NO FRIGGING WAY!!!!!

You call this a party???

Okay…deep breath…stay calm…must think…Ides of March…ideas…
Wait! Got it!

Alright people. Listen up:

I’m hereby announcing the Female Version of March Madness:

This March, instead of a respectable, feel-good holiday about all things femme, I’m advocating a release of seasonally-induced craziness (as opposed to the hormonally induced one, already discussed in an earlier post) by exercising our right to a Hall Pass:

In other words, a week in which women can eat all the de-stressing, comfort food we want, without having to worry about our weight!

Just imagine it ladies: ice cream, pasta, tater tots (even if some cheerleading instructors among us consider them a controlled substance).

Mercedes on Glee fights for her right to tot.

That’s right.
Stand away from the pantry, boys.
This March, we are WOMEN GONE CULINARILY WILD!

The Couchsurfing Cook goes mad.

Here in New York City, my Italian friend, Samantha, got a few of us ladies off to a smashing start the other night by making spaghetti carbonara. Her recipe is simple and delicious and, better yet, I’ve provided a non-bacon version for the vegetarian and non-pork eaters among us.

Last, but not least, in another bout of madness for the CS Cook, I’m hosting my
first-ever contest:

Take a picture of your favorite comfort food and tell me in 200 words or less why you love it.

The winner, chosen at random, will win a copy of The William Sonoma Comfort Food Cookbook or, if you’re anti-cruelty, The Vegetarian Meat and Potatoes Cookbook.

The contest is open to all. You don’t even need to have XX chromosomes to enter. Deadline for entries is Sunday, March 13, 2011, at midnight. Winner announced March 16, 2011.

Samantha's amazing Spaghetti Carbonara.

* Check out the Website Samantha writes for, NUOK.IT, the Italian’s guide to all things New York.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Servings: 3 to 4

Ingredients:

8 ounces spaghetti – 250 grams
3 egg yolks
12 ounces bacon (We used Wegman’s uncured bacon or substitute equal amount of turkey bacon or baby bella mushrooms) – 340 grams
ground black pepper
Pecorino romano cheese (to taste)

1. Chop bacon into small pieces. Cook in skillet over medium heat until crisp but not burnt. If substituting mushrooms, first heat 1/4 cup (59 milliliters or 2 UK liquid ounces) olive oil in skillet. Once hot, add chopped mushrooms and a pinch or two of salt. Allow to cook 10-15 minutes until tender.

2. In small bowl, beat egg yolks, then add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Cook pasta in large pot of salted water. When done (al dente, a little chewy still), pour approximately 4 ounces (118 milliliters), approximately half a glass, of pasta cooking water into a bowl and allow to cool slightly.

4. Once cooking water is warm, add three-quarters of it to the egg yolks. Whisk to combine.

5. Return skillet with bacon to stove under low heat.

6. In a colander, drain pasta from large pot, then toss in pan with bacon.

7. Add eggs to pan. Toss to combine. Turn heat off and keep tossing.

8. If pasta looks dry, add more of the pasta cooking water to moisten.

9. Serve immediately in individual bowls. Top with grated pecorino romano and pepper.

** Want to know the inspiration for the black and white photos above? They came from this year’s TED Prize Winner, graffiti artist JR. **

Blame it on the Gumbo

Location: Pinewood, Louisiana + Garland, Texas
Person: Clell
Recipe: Seafood and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

After a time, a man gets to talking.

Maybe he confesses something. A dream. A desire. A regret.

Hours pass. He has time to reflect. On his life. Places he’s been. Things he’s seen.

There are subjects on which he’s an expert. Possesses expertise. You can see it. The way he stirs the spoon in the pot. A confidence there.

Not every man has his patience. It’s a skill hard-won. Perhaps his mother’s side? He never did say.

Then again, he left home early. Says he carries memories in his mouth now. Just went home for grandma’s birthday. Everyone knows, miles don’t equal love.

After some hours, the sky darkens. Night rushes in. The man grows tired. The hours feel like years. He’d just like a place to lay his head is all. The simple things what’s needed. Hot coffee in the morning. A piece of bread to dunk his sorrows. His requirements small. Not like his dreams. They loom large. Floating off to a distance. A black unknown.

Still, he knows there’s tomorrow. Believes it in his skin. The way he knows his history. The body, like the future, never lying.

In the morning, the man disappears. His soul turning material with the sun’s clear light. A shirt. A tie. Now a pair of pants.

Leave no trace, he learned as a boy, hunting in a Texas wood (pointing the gun away from the doe, as she sprang through the air unbidden, though he’s never spoke of the transgression).

Yes, it’s true what they say. Or what I imagined in a dream that followed: You can learn a lot about a man, by the way he makes gumbo.

* Thanks to Clell for sharing his family’s gumbo recipe. The Southern Foodways Alliance also has a wonderful article about how to make roux.

Seafood and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Clell's Seafood and Andouille Sausage Gumbo

Servings: 10-12
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 1/2 hours

Ingredients:

Roux:

1 cup vegetable oil – 236 ml
1 cup flour – 120 grams

Gumbo:

64 ounces chicken broth (can substitute vegetable broth or, as we did, half chicken, half vegetable) – 1892 ml
3 ounces chopped okra (10 whole) – 87 grams
4 ounces chopped onion – 115 grams
5 ounces celery (2 stalks) – 140 grams
1 green pepper – 85 grams
5 bay leaves
4 teaspoons Cajun or any mixed spice seasoning containing celery salt, garlic, thyme
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons tabasco
2 teaspoons salt or to taste (we went easy on the salt)
1 lb. can whole, peeled plum tomatoes – 500 grams
13 ounces andouille sausage (4 in total), cut into diagonal rounds – 356 grams
6 fresh, whole oysters, shucked including juice
6 fresh, large shrimp, shells and tails removed, each cut in thirds
11 ounces medium, whole frozen shrimp, thawed to room temperature, each cut in half – 310 grams

To serve: 10-12 cups cooked, white rice

* It helps to have two people making gumbo. One to stir the roux, the other to ready the gumbo ingredients. At any point, the two can trade places.

Directions:

To make the roux:

1. Heat 1 cup vegetable oil over medium heat in a cast iron skillet until hot but not smoking, approximately 5 minutes.

2. Add 1 cup white flour and stir with wooden spatula to combine.

3. Lower heat and continue stirring oil and flour without pause for what will seem like FOREVER, but which is actually about an hour. Be sure to regularly scrape the pan bottom to prevent flour and oil from sticking. As you stir, the roux, as it’s called, will slowly change color from pale beige/grey to warm yellow to light caramel and then medium-dark brown caramel.

4. Once the roux is in the medium caramel-colored range, remove pan from heat and continue stirring a few minutes longer, until it turns slightly darker caramel brown. It’s important to remove pan from heat BEFORE the roux gets too dark, as it will continue cooking off the burner.

5. Whatever you do, DO NOT WALK AWAY from the roux, ALLOW IT TO SIT for too long without stirring, or LEAVE HEAT TOO HIGH, which will cause it to burn. If you sense the pan becoming too hot or see it starting to smoke, immediately remove from heat and allow to cool slightly before returning to low heat.

* There are some very talented people, probably Creole or Cajun folks, who can safely make a nearly black roux. Do not imagine you are one of them. Just take it slowly. Remember, they call New Orleans (N’awlins) the “Big Easy” for a reason. Roux may seem intimidating, and it is a bit of an art, but mostly it requires a calm head and a good nose.

While the roux is heating, a second person can do the steps below. In terms of timing, you want to have the roux finish so it’s ready to add to the broth and vegetables when you’re about at the halfway point:

1. Chop okra, bell peppers, and celery into 1/4″ pieces. Finely dice onion. Set each aside in separate bowls.

2. Into a large, deep pot, pour half the broth and warm under low to medium heat, approximately 10-15 minutes.

3. Add okra, onions, celery, and green peppers. Stir to combine. Cook until slightly softened, approximately 10 minutes.

4. Add whole tomatoes and spices. Stir to combine. Cook another 10 minutes.

5. Using wooden spoon, add roux to broth and continue stirring to combine. To keep gumbo from becoming too thick or gummy, quickly add remaining broth in cup measurements, stirring to combine. Stop before it gets thin and soupy.

6. Add andouille sausage and oysters. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to simmer.

7. Let gumbo cook, uncovered, simmering, another 30 to 45 minutes. Continue stirring gumbo occasionally, checking thickness, and add more broth as needed to maintain thick but not pastey consistency.

8. After 30 minutes, add fresh and defrosted shrimp.

9. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired. The taste should be spicy but not burning. Allow to cook another 10 minutes until shrimp is done.

10. To serve, ladle gumbo over 1-2 cups hot rice. Gumbo can be eaten right away, but some contend it tastes even better the next day.

How to Get Laid on Valentine’s Day…and Beyond!

Guaranteed to get your loved one horizontal.

Do you want to get laid on Valentine’s Day…and Beyond?

If you answered YES to this question, then I’m about to reveal a SUREFIRE METHOD that’s GUARANTEED to get the woman or man of your dreams under the covers wearing nothing more than their tighty-whiteys in less than 24 hours or I WILL GIVE YOU YOUR MONEY BACK!!!

How do I know this method works? I speak from PERSONAL EXPERIENCE!

When I was 21 years old, I worked for a summer as a bartender in London. Being 21, I admittedly had other things on my mind besides alcohol (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean, say no more…).

Yet no matter how much I batted my eyelashes, dabbed beer behind my ears, and yelled at blokes in the bar that they could “wank off” if they didn’t like what I was pouring, British men avoided me like I was Fergie pre-Weight Watchers.

To drown my sorrows, and cool my searing flesh, I began swimming at the local pool. Then, one day, while emerging Bo Derek-like from the piscine, I met a handsome Frenchman who, oo-la-la, also happened to be a chef.

Jean, as I’ll call him, was just what the doctor ordered to restore my joie de vivre. Yet despite his whistling “Tea for Two” beneath my window at night and covering my neck with passionate kisses in front of the guards at Buckingham Palace, I refused to let him have his way with me, delicate, young thing that I was.

But all that changed one afternoon, when he suggested we take a walk in the park. Expecting nothing more than a chaste stroll, I was shocked when Jean suddenly pulled from his pockets – not what you think, dear reader – but rather a Swiss Army knife, spoon, apple, and bottle of wine.

Now what Jean did next – and what I’m about to share with you, dear reader – is something that is SO GUARANTEED TO ENLARGE, I mean, ENTHRALL the woman or man of your dreams, you’ll be running to the drugstore for protection faster than a free-range chicken at the Slow Food – Charlotte Chapter’s Southern Food Cook-Off!

What he did was carefully remove the central part of the apple’s core, leaving the apple bottom in place. He then cut a wider circle around the apple top to create a shallow opening. Using the spoon, he scooped out most of the innards to form a cup. Finally, ever so gently, he filled the apple “cup” with wine, and offered me a sip. The rest of the afternoon passed in a dream-like blur, as the apple cup of wine moved back and forth between our two lips, until they were stained cherry-red.

More important for YOU to know, is that within eight hours of Jean’s skilled handiwork, I was laid out on his bed as horizontal as Click and Clack the Tappett Brothers beneath the body of a Mustang lowrider.

Which is why, dear reader, if you want to get laid on Valentine’s Day – and beyond – there’s NOTHING, I mean NOTHING, sexier or more romantic than hand-carving your beloved an apple wine cup. And, better yet, this SUREFIRE METHOD costs less than $10!! That’s right!! LESS THAN $10!!

So don’t delay!! Act now!! Rush order your apple today!!
THIS METHOD IS GUARANTEED TO GET YOU LAID OR I’LL GIVE YOU YOUR MONEY – OR READING TIME – BACK!!

Oh, Mexico!

Rocio and her mom at home in Cancun.

Location: Mexico
Person: Rocio
Recipe: Ponche, Winter Fruit Punch
___________________________

There are three ways a person can travel:

Walk among the people.
Bike, bus, or train with backpackers.
Observe from a remove, knowing it’s all a mirage.

Over nine days in Mexico, I experienced all three.

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On January 1, I flew to Mexico for what I thought was a much-needed vacation. To be clear, I live in the United States, have a roof over my head, eat three meals a day, enjoy the benefits of heat, electricity, and hot water, and am fortunate enough to engage in work I find meaningful that also pays enough to meet my basic needs while giving me extra for occasional splurges.

I first couchsurfed at Rocio’s home in Cancun. Incredibly, she left me alone in her house while she stayed at her boyfriend’s; her boyfriend, she later confessed, was her ex-husband.

In the bedroom at Rocio's.

I then headed to the beach town of Tulum where, lacking a reservation, a Swedish woman on the street directed me to a cheap, but clean, hotel.

A hotel in Tulum.

Finally I spent four days at a luxury resort in Playa del Carmen attending a workshop — the real purpose of my trip.

The bedroom at Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

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In Cancun, Rocio’s mother fed me bacalo and gave me warm ponche to drink to celebrate the New Year. At night, I wandered the streets and found a restaurant called Blanca Elana, where I watched a woman make tortillas while I ate papas con rajas.

In Tulum, I sat by the beach at restaurants with outdoor terraces and wooden tables. At Las Estrellas, I ordered ceviche and drank cold, Mexican beer.

Ceviche at Las Estrellas.

At Xcatik, the French-born chef treated me to fusion versions of traditional Mayan food and introduced me to Mexican wines.

Steak with black beans and guacamole.

Once at the resort, I dined at five or six restaurants, each with its own cuisine. Getting to them required taking a shuttle bus down a smooth, dirt road through a mangrove jungle. Waited on by beautiful waitresses and handsome waiters who anticipated my every move, I took delicate bites of strange and exotic dishes like Napoléon de Foie Gras Mi-Cuit Sur Tuile d’Amandes, each dish a kind of theater unto itself.

Foie gras at Grand Velas, photo courtesy of Loaded Kitchen.


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For fun, in Rocio’s neighborhood, I wandered the neighborhood in the early morning and listened to birds.

In Tulum, I biked to an archaeological site filled with Mayan ruins, where I hiked through green fields scattered with tourists.

Mayan ruins with tourists.

At the resort, I lounged by the pool and read or drank margaritas and chatted about food and photography.

The pool at Grand Velas Maya Riviera

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Nine days later, I returned to New York City, the memory of Mexico quickly vanquished by the onslaught of wind and snow and the inevitable routines of daily life.

But when I drink a cup of ponche now to warm my hands, I’m reminded of why I love to travel and how fortunate I am to experience travel in its many incarnations.

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With thanks to Rocio and her mom; Chef Dennis Radoux at Xcatik (Calle Sagitario Pte. esq. con Alfa norte, Tulum); Petter from Sweden, who walked me back to town after visiting the ruins, and the Swedish tourist who led me to the hotel; the leaders of Food Blog Camp and all the wonderful bloggers I met there, including Maggie, my former roommate, who blogs at Loaded Kitchen; the staff at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, and the doctor who treated me when I fell ill there; KerryGold for providing a scholarship to the workshop; and all the strangers who crossed my path whose names I will never know but who supported me along the journey. Namaste!

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Mexican Ponche, Adapted for Gringos

To make true ponche requires ingredients that may be difficult to find in some parts of the world, like piloncillo and sugar cane. I’ve included a link to a traditional recipe from the wonderful Mija Chronicles and created my own version using more easily available ingredients. For the dedicated, some but not all, Mexican ingredients can be ordered online and delivered to Europe through Mexgrocer. For U.S. customers, Latin Merchant has a wide selection, including the ingredients below, all of which can be shipped within the U.S.

Servings: 8-10 teacup size servings

Ingredients:

4 cups water
5 cinnamon sticks, 3-4″ each
2 tablespoon tamarind paste
1/2 cup firmly packed dark, brown sugar
1/2 cup whole walnuts
1/2 cup yellow apple, cut into 1″ pieces
2/3 cup pear, well-ripened, cut into 1″ pieces
8 prunes
1 cup orange slices, peel left on, each piece cut into small triangle

Optional if you can find them:

4 whole guavas, also called guayabas, in syrup, seeds removed and cut in half
6 tejacotes in jar, pre-cooked

Directions:

1. Place water, cinnamon, tamarind paste, and walnuts in medium size pot on stove over medium heat. Cover and heat until just beginning to boil.

2. Add remaining fruit except orange or tejacote or guayaba if using.

3. Lower heat and allow to cook until fruit is soft but not falling apart, approximately 15-20 minutes.

4. Add orange slices or Mexican fruits and allow to cook another 10 minutes or to taste.

5. Remove cinnamon sticks. Serve hot, scooping pieces of fruit and nuts into each cup.