Tuesday, January 01, 2008

New year, expectations & (in)certitudes

Michael Sedano

What is it about the winter holidays that I find myself reading desultory stuff, i.e. not chicana chicano novels? Last year I started the year with a review of an historical novel, Imperium, centered around my favorite Latino, the old Roman Cicero, plus a chapter from a creative non-fiction piece that didn't find a publisher.

December 07's year-ending novel was the less-than-satisfactory British thriller, Brian Freemantle's The Namedropper. Freemantle normally produces reliably readable, engagingly plotted novels. His Charlie Muffin spy series held my attention for years. Charlie’s taken his sore feet and brown shoes into anti-hero retirement. Now Freemantle brings a true antihero in Harvey Jordan, an identity thief who rips off rich guys. Harvey is a despicable character whose malevolence marks him as one of the bad guys. Yet, Freemantle has the reader rooting for Harvey to stick it to an even bigger jerk, a slimy Wall Street broker.

I almost set down the novel several times, owing to crummy proofing and a poor design that makes me claustrophobic yearning for white space. Think inkhornist and pages that smell of the lamp. Yet there's something engaging, even compelling, in a story built around the quaint concept of "criminal conversation," a euphemism for adultery, and the emotional wringer the crooked Brit Harvey is put through by North Carolina's divorce laws. Freemantle never quite gets United States English right--another editing flaw--but all told, The Namedropper's an engaging courtroom thriller and cockeyed love story worth a visit to the library. I hope your holiday reading was more profitable for you.

It's a pleasure to announce our 2008 La Bloga experience is broadening with Ann Hagman Cardinal, our recent guest columnist, beginning her every-other-Sunday regular spot on January 6, which is Three Kings Day. Ann's column features a tasty Three King's Day libation you're gonna read and want to put into your own cup, I'm sure.

Speaking of recipes, among my favorite holiday treats is Cajeta de Membrillo. Quince is a wonderful but underappreciated fruit that suffers in comparison to apples and pears, both of which it resembles. Membrillo comes off the tree fuzzy and sticky, aromatic, bitter, and hard as a rock. But add sugar, heat, patience, and Uau! Cajeta de Membrillo becomes an unforgettable confection. I gave tiny chunks to my year old granddaughter Charlotte and she wanted more. Welcome to the ranks of membrillo lovers, Charlotte! One day we'll put up a batch together.

I posted the full recipe at Read! Raza. Here's a quick look at the details:

Step 1: Get your hands on the fruit. My family grows it, but some seasons the tree is less productive.

Step 2: Clean, cook, peel, core. This year I made a flavorful agua de membrillo from the peel and core, in the offal spirit of chicano cooking: everything but the squeal.

Step 3: Add sugar and cook for hours and hours under high heat and constant stirring until the cajeta is just right.

Step 4: Test the cajeta and if it's not just right, cook it some more. If it is just right, let it sit in an oven or the sun to dry it out and let the paste turn into a toothy treat.

Step 5: Cut into rectangles and eat out of hand, or heat a quality tortilla and wrap it around a hunk of membrillo for an instant empanada sin pan. Use a tortilla de maíz and this is a completely gluten-free treat that Celiacs will find completely palatable. Use a tortilla de harina or a slice of wheat-based bread and make me jealous.

Agua de Membrillo. What a treat this is; the hit of any tamalada, especially for the kidlets and the tea-totallers. Save the peel and cores and the water you boiled the raw membrillo. Add a few sticks of canela and the lime you squeezed over the fruit to keep it from oxydizing. Add a little sugar and water to fill a big pot. Boil the heck out of it. Strain. Serve warm or chilled. Absochingaolutely delicious!

Do check out the full cajeta process description at Read! Raza and let me know if you have questions.

La Bloga's "old" regulars look forward to welcoming Ann Cardinal as the new La Bloga Bloguera. La Bloga welcomes your comments and guest column ideas. Email one of us and let us know of your interest.

So it goes, the first Tuesday of 2008.
And, since I didn't receive any novels or poetry collections for Xmas, I'm open to sharing titles or volumes. Leave a comment with your recommendations, promises, or comments on comida chicana and cooking generally.
See you next week!


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