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Cooking Traditional New Mexican Food: Being Creative on the East Coast

I was born and raised in Albuquerque, Mexico.  When you grow up in a place like Albuquerque, you do not realize what a unique place it is compared to other places in this Country.  The Hispanic and Native American cultures are so pervasive in New Mexico that all of life is enriched with those influences.  From the time of birth, kids grow up learning about the culture and eating the rich cuisine of the area.  The food is not like Mexican food from anywhere else on the planet.  

I ate New Mexican food at least one if not three times a day my whole life.  Daily hot green chile breakfast burritos, green chile stew for lunch, and countless plates of blue corn chicken and green chile enchiladas were regular menus in my life.  Green chile was simply a staple that could be added to virtually anything.  It was not until I left Albuquerque for the East Coast 12 years ago that I realized that that if I ever wanted to eat food like that again, I would have to make it myself.

So many well-meaning people have pointed me to “authentic Mexican” restaurants in Philadelphia.  I have tried many of them.  Many of them are “authentic Mexican”, but none of them serve the food that I grew up eating in New Mexico.  New Mexican food is not the food of any particular region of Mexico, it is it’s ownunique cuisine.  One website aptly points out:

"First and most important: New Mexican food is not the same as Mexican food! The primary difference is the featured role of green chile in New Mexican cuisine.”  

—   All About New Mexico:  New Mexico Foods, Dining in New Mexico (available athttp://www-psych.nmsu.edu/~linda/food.htm)

New Mexican cuisine was derived out of a combination of influences, which make it differ from the cuisine of Mexico itself:

"New Mexico’s cuisine differs from Northern Mexican, Tex-Mex and the Mexican food found in Colorado, Arizona and California. One reason is that the State has two distinct cuisines, Native American and Hispanic. The foods and cooking traditions of each culture has influenced the other."

"The types of chiles found here is also an important factor. The state produces many varieties of chile, from the famous Hatch variety to local versions such as Chimayó. Each is different, in part according to the Jamisons, because of the different soil characteristics in each area."

— From the blog Santa Fe Travelers, Santa Fe and Beyond, Tasting New Mexico: a love letter, by Bilie Frank, (available at http://www.santafetravelers.com/food-thoughts/tasting-new-mexican-food-a-love-letter/)

So, while Philadelphia has many fantastic Mexican restaurants, many of which are run by people who are actually from Mexico, they will not satisfy a native New Mexican’s huger for New Mexican cuisine.  I have been to more Mexican restaurants than I can count since I moved to the East Coast.  Not one has been anywhere close to the food I grew up with.  I have scowered the shelves of Mexican grocery stores for ingredients, but there are always some really important ingredients that are not available because they are not used by the Mexican or Hispanic communities that live here. 

Because the cuisine of New Mexico is the result of a blending of cultures, and reliance on a few staple ingredients that are hard to find elsewhere, such as specific types of green chile, a person who moves elsewhere will have to be creative to continue cooking the food.   For example, although one can get canned green chile at the grocery store it is not usually very spicy.  Also, it is canned.  The peppers that are available may be hot, but are not like New Mexico varieties.  Shipping green chile from New Mexico is EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE.  So, while it is not very New Mexican, I have learned to combine canned green chile with chopped fresh jalapenos, and I have found that I really like the use of jalapenos.  In fact, I have become so enamoured with them, that I use them with almost everything I cook now.  It complements the flavor of traditional New Mexican food very well, and provides heat that does not come from canned green chile.  So, while it is hard to be completely authentic, it is possible to continue eating the foods of New Mexico even in Philadelphia if you are creative with ingredients and willing to try substitutions.

Posole is a traditional pork and red chile stew using a large kernel white corn or hominy.  It was a staple food for me and my family in New Mexico.  When I was pregnant with my daughter, I craved it so badly during that time that I made daily crock pots of it and consumed it by the gallons.  It has taken twelve years in Philadelphia for me to find a white corn suitable to use.  Hominy comes canned here, but it will be mushy if used in Posole.  I also found a very small kernel hominy in dry form, but it too gets mushy and does not hold up in Posole.  Yesterday, a friend told me about a grocery store with a large Mexican section, and I found a very large kernel white corn.  Today, for the first time in years, I am making a pot of posole! 

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hitrecord:

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE SCREENED AT OUR UPCOMING TOUR? LET US KNOW!
Our “hitRECord On The Road” Mini-Tour begins next week & we wanna know what records you’d like to have played on the Tour!
==
Here’s how you can contribute to this collaboration:
* EVERYONE: Make Albums that of records you think should be included in the Tour for the following two categories:
1) PRE-SHOW MUSIC (songs you think should be played before each show begins)
2) FEATURED RECORDS (records you think should be screened during the shows)
==
You can contribute your Albums to the collaboration HERE!


Neat

hitrecord:

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE SCREENED AT OUR UPCOMING TOUR? LET US KNOW!

Our “hitRECord On The Road” Mini-Tour begins next week & we wanna know what records you’d like to have played on the Tour!

==

Here’s how you can contribute to this collaboration:

* EVERYONE: Make Albums that of records you think should be included in the Tour for the following two categories:

1) PRE-SHOW MUSIC (songs you think should be played before each show begins)

2) FEATURED RECORDS (records you think should be screened during the shows)

==

You can contribute your Albums to the collaboration HERE!

Neat

(via hitrecordjoe)

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msnbc:

From The Last Word:
President Obama will have to face the same divided Congress in his second term as he did in his first. Come January 5th, the 113th Congress will not have a change in the overall balance of power, with the Democrats holding power in the Senate, and the Republicans holding a majority in the House. But Democrats scored some victories in tight races –meaning some of  the #batcrapcrazy politicians have been weeded out.
(Photo credit: Last Word)

msnbc:

From The Last Word:

President Obama will have to face the same divided Congress in his second term as he did in his first. Come January 5th, the 113th Congress will not have a change in the overall balance of power, with the Democrats holding power in the Senate, and the Republicans holding a majority in the House. But Democrats scored some victories in tight races –meaning some of  the #batcrapcrazy politicians have been weeded out.

(Photo credit: Last Word)

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Your Vote is Your Voice

Democracy is “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” - Abraham Lincoln.

People on both sides of partisan lines are really concerned about the outcome of the 2012 election. It is a close call, and the outcome will have serious implications on our lives. The economy has been terrible, people have been out of work, and life has felt a bit bleak. So what happens politically will have a strong impact on our recovery, and on our overall happiness. Everyone waits with bated breath for the election results because this election, as are all elections, is tremendously important.

So, the election has been tense and heated. Mud slinging has commenced with the greatest force. The debates were like sporting events. We sat on the edge of our seats as the 2012 Presidential candidates argued contentiously about the important issues. We watched twisting of truths, and we writhed as we felt the tension between them. We have kept our eyes on the polls, worrying about how close this election still appears. We have seen all the ugly commercials played to us back-to-back, sometimes airing three or four campaign commercials in a row, and our heads are ready to pop from so much politicking.

To those who are undecided or are deciding not to vote, I want to remind you that whether you vote or not there will be a winner. Therefore, if living in a Democracy where you have rights ensured to you, where corruption does not prevail, and others do not make important decisions for you, you should consider it to be your civic duty to vote tomorrow. You have a chance to choose the leaders who will make our break this economy, who will decide what our futures will be, and who will either uphold or tear apart the Constitution. If we have an interest in the Constitution, then we should vote.

It only takes a minute. If there is a line, it is worth the wait. You should consider a line at a polling place to be a victory for Democracy because it is voter apathy that ruins it for everyone.

After all, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." — Abraham Lincoln.

We cannot live in the Democracy where our voices are heard unless we take part in electing the people who will represent us. (Visit http://www.whyeveryvotecounts.com). Voting demonstrates that we are paying attention to what law makers are doing, and it gives us a voice.

There are those that feel that they need not vote because their votes do not count anyway. I am here to say that if you do not vote, you are allowing others to take your voice away from you. If you do not vote you are allowing others to strip you of an extremely important Constitutional right. Going to the polling place will show our leaders that our votes must count, and that we are not going to let a minority decide who represents us. Voting shows that you have an opinion about what you want our government to be like. It is a unique right that we should take seriously. Please vote tomorrow. It does not matter whether you agree with me in politics, we should all agree that voting is a precious right that we should exercise.

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NaNoWriMo!

Last month when I was thinking about writing some fiction, I came across a website for National Novel Writing Month, which is November.  At http://www.nanowrimo.org/en, you sign up for a free account where you can chart your progress as you attempt to write one 50,000 novel between November 1st and November 30th.  It is a competition, albeit one without any substantive prize, that might help get some of us writing. 

It reminds me of Project 21, in Philadelphia (check it out at http://www.projecttwenty1.com/).   My husband takes part in that competition yearly.  It is a filmmakers contest where they are given 30 days to write, make, and edit a movie that is not longer than 10 minutes.  But making movies is beyond me, unlike my husband who does it almost without effort.  So, when I discovered a similar type of writing contest I was excited.  I may not ever be an award winning author, but I might be able to write something, and this is a challenge I have time to tackle this year. 

So, I temporarily abandoned the book project I started to start something new.  It is only day 2 of the challenge, so if you are inspired to start writing a short book, go to the NaNoWriMo website and sign up for an account.  You never know what you might be able to do!

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Lawyers can write fiction too…

In the midst of moving forward with working as a lawyer or some version of a lawyer, I decided to write a book.  It comes from an idea that I have had brewing and have worked with a little bit in the past, but now I feel like what have I to lose?  Lawyers are trained to write, to read, to research, to outline, and to analyze.  We know how to put elements together to tell a story and accomplish a written goal.  We know how to persuade.  

Although outlining is a skill that must be learned, and I certainly recall struggling with it in my first year of law school, once it is understood it is a tool that can be used in any kind of writing.  Therefore, rather than just setting pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard, I started researching how to really outline a plot structure.  I discovered several methods, which I combined for my own purposes, and I am pleased with the results.  

First, I took the steps that are defined by the Snowflake method (which is described at http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/art/snowflake.php).  Using Microsoft Office One Note I created “boxes” that included 1) a one-sentence summary of the story; 2) a paragraph summary of the story; and 3) a chart of characters defining their goals, ambitions and conflicts along with descriptions of the story from each character’s point of view.  

Second, I incorporated the elements described at http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/writing-ideas.html and added to my character chart the “requirements” for meeting each character/story goal, and obstacles thereto.  

In separate tabs on One Note, I created one page summaries of each character from their points of view.  I added character profile to each character’s page.  I developed that from the character sheet suggested at http://ezinearticles.com/?Using-Character-Sheets-in-Fiction-Writing&id=573563.  

As a lawyer, outlining and charting the plot from start to end makes a lot of sense.  It gives you direction, and the more you know about your characters the better you can flesh out the story once you begin to write.  The Snowflake Method suggests that there should be a beginning, three crisis events, and an end.  If you know what moments are key, then the work is in filling in the blanks to create cause and effect.  Of course, the hard part is fleshing it all out into a longer story.  

We shall see how this goes, but going through the character sketches and outlining this way has truly helped me to see new areas of my story that I had not conceived of, and which I might not have otherwise come to.  

Hyper Smash